Oxford Climate Justice Campaign (OCJC) and Zero Carbon (ZC) have presented evidence which contradicts statements made by the Metropolitan Police in the aftermath of the incidents during Sunday’s Boat Race.
OCJC and ZC campaign for fossil fuel divestment at Oxford and Cambridge, respectively.
During the Boat Race on Sunday, an event which attracted a viewership in the millions, the organisations planned on dropping a twenty-metre banner reading “Oxbridge Come Clean” over Hammersmith Bridge as the men’s boats passed underneath. These plans were thwarted by police intervention.
In a statement to Oxford Mail, the Metropolitan Police said: “Officers became concerned about people in the crowded area potentially being in possession of fireworks and causing a safety hazard to those in the vicinity. A number of other individuals were also seen acting suspiciously.
“As a result, three men and four women were stop and searched under Section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. No items were seized and no arrests were made.”
Despite the police’s claims, video evidence seen by Cherwell shows one of the near 20 police officers present on the bridge saying: “I just confiscated a very large number of zip ties.” The zip ties were not returned after the search.
In a joint statement, OCJC and ZC wrote: “Cambridge Zero Carbon Society and Oxford Climate Justice Campaign strongly condemn the lies about seized property issued by an official spokesperson of the Met Police. This messy attempt to hide the truth about police heavy-handedness demonstrates that even the Met’s own representatives are aware that officers were entirely unjustified in their repression of our peaceful, legal protest.
“Our intention was not to disrupt or to damage, and in fact our protest was meticulously planned not to disturb the racers. Rather, our goal was to use a public platform to call upon our universities to remove their untenable investments in fossil fuel companies.
“In impeding the free expression of this message, the police are complicit in upholding the damaging status quo. These revelations are deeply embarrassing for the police – who we call on to make a full apology for their actions, and subsequent misrepresentations.”
Though the Metropolitan Police have chosen not to comment on protester’s allegations, one video shows an officer explaining their reasons for intervening. The officer expressed worry that flares may hurt innocent bystanders, referring to their use at a similar protest during last year’s Boat Race. He also said: “Our concern is that the banner could drop down and hurt someone who is part of the race, and also that it could be used to do criminal damage to the bridge.”
That an item is made or adapted for doing criminal damage is one of the grounds on which it can be legally seized. The police did not formally confiscate the banner itself, with one clip showing an officer saying: “We can’t seize [the banner] from you, based on its size.”
However, one clip shows an officer searching the bag containing it and carrying it away from the owner. When asked on why he was taking it, he responded: “I am not taking it, I am just taking it off the bridge.”
The events described transpired around 3:15pm, just when the banner drop was scheduled. Protesters said that two members of the activist groups were searched, whilst three others were apprehended and brought onto the road in between crowds of onlookers. The protesters claim they were “aggressively separated from each other and surrounded on all sides”.
After what protesters describe as “20 minutes of intense questioning, including threats of charges and intimidating tactic”, any reasonable chance of protest was gone and they were allowed to leave the bridge. None of the activists was arrested.
The two organisations claim that this was not the first time climate activists were stopped that day. A spokesperson for Zero Carbon confirmed that at 11.30am, a police officer stopped them to ask questions and demand ID. The student claimed to have seen that the police officer had “Cambridge Zero Carbon Society, Hammersmith Bridge, Climate Protest” written in their notebook.
Protesters said that police presence on Hammersmith Bridge was concentrated in the 20m stretch where they had planned to drop the banner.
Two members who were stopped and questioned at 2pm were threatened with what protesters describe as ‘serious discipline’ if they did not provide their names, addresses, and a commitment to not being involved in any form of protest on the bridge.
The Metropolitan Police were contacted for comment.