I took some photos of the G20 protests around RBS and the Bank of England today. I had a quiet afternoon after a meeting in Soho, so decided to head to Bank to take a look at the square mile and see what was afoot with the much discussed G20 protests. It ended up being anything but quiet.
Arriving at St Pauls (I’d already heard that Bank tube station was closed), I overheard various police officers informing people of the best ways to avoid Bank, saying that much of the area was closed off due the protests. Deciding I’d just get as close as I safely could, take some photos and then go home, I started walking towards the Bank of England.
I soon realised that the officer’s advice was sound. There were police blockades on every single street leading in to the Bank of England.
Many streets had not just one line of police but two, with a gap in between them, essentially keeping a safe distance between two crowds. Skirting around the cordons in busy side streets, I got as close as I could get.
Plenty of flag-waving, singing, cheering and jeering. It seemed peaceful and good-natured and I found the police to be largely friendly and helpful. People were having fun.
The guy on the right was being interviewed by Radio 4. When asked why he was dressed as Satan, and which group he was represented, he thought for a moment and said, “RBS”. The interviewer couldn’t help but grin.
2:20 – Note the gap between the two crowds in the photo above. Looking in from the outside, I could come and go as I pleased, as long as I didn’t want to get any closer to the central area filled with protesters. Equally, the people on the inside couldn’t get out. They were hemmed in by the police on all sides.
2:40 – Just as I’m getting a bit bored and thinking about heading back to the office, the central crowd starts pushing and shoving the line of police which is penning them in. Scarily (for me), within a couple of minutes they had managed to break through the line, and were surging in my direction. I moved back a few paces, fearing a stampede, but all that really happened was that two bits of the crowd (the inner bit, and my outer bit) had joined up.
2:41 – But… the police had pulled back and regrouped, forming two new lines, one on either side of me. I ask nicely about leaving.
– “Excuse me officer” (I’m nothing if not polite). “I think I’d actually like to be on that side of you…”
– “Sorry mate, not happening.”
– “Really? I just…”
– “No. No-one gets in, no-one gets out. Those are my orders”.
I’ve suddenly gone from being an outside observer to being one of 2000 people (not all of whom were protesters, I can assure you) trapped in the middle of the square mile.
2:50 – After the surge, things were pretty peaceful. I started checking with officers at the various (9?) blocked streets and alleys that they really were not letting anyone out, and was slightly horrified to learn they didn’t even have any idea of when they would start letting us leave. Frustrated, but trying to go with the flow, I a) rang my wife and b) started looking around at the stuff I couldn’t previously get to. There were no groups shoving at the police now. In fact, perhaps because there was more room, everyone seemed pretty relaxed.
3:00 – It felt pretty much like a carnival really. Singing, dancing, sound systems blasting 3 different sorts of music, lots of friendly, people being happy.
3:10 – Bloody hell, they’ve smashed RBS. This must have happened a while ago. Before I arrived, even? There are mounted police here, and the atmosphere is different here, on Threadneedle Street. There’s still a lot of anger focused here. I don’t like it.
4:00 – Heading back in the other direction, I find some shade and sit in a shop doorway, pull out my 3G dongle and check my email. People ask if there’s any news. When are we getting out? No idea. The news doesn’t know. The police blocking us in don’t know, so why should the news?
4:30 – Hot and tired. Annoyed. Thirsty. Bored. Restless.
4:45 – The general mood seems to be shifting and worsening. I’m not alone in wondering when those of us who don’t want to be here will be allowed to leave. Portaloos have arrived, which is certainly a good idea, but what about food? And water? This part of the city is pretty handy if you need a cash machine, but there’s certainly nowhere open in here to spend any of it.
The police line starts moving people back down Queen Victoria Street (past HSBC) back towards the centre. Once it starts, it happens quite quickly, and in quite an ugly way. BBC News 24 captures the confrontations, while I stay well back from the shoving.
Some protesters were throwing bottles, and I saw one flaming newspaper hurled. A handful of the scary hardcore anarchist-protester-types just stood there, squaring off with the police, intent on being forced back rather than just retreating. From the police’s side, the violence mainly involved shoving people along the street with their riot shields, but I did see the batons did get used a few times. This was the ugliest part of the day. (That I saw). The crowd went wild with shouts of “shame on you! shame on you!” whenever any sort of police violence was seen.
I’m still not sure why it was considered a good idea to compress the crowd back in to a smaller area. It certainly did the police no favours in the eyes of the more neutral observers.
5:30 – Free at last. I finally got out by showing my BBC ID card to a police officer (who I think probably assumed I was press). I was told “Ok. You can go this way to Cannon Street, but you won’t be able to get back in”. I don’t want to get back in. I want to go home. Except that I felt very bad for everyone else still penned in there, and seeing Pete Blakemore’s increasingly worrying updates (and the fact he was in there for at least a further three hours) made me even more glad to be back, but also even more uneasy and a little angry.
Update: the Guardian has a great video and story which sums up the day, plus a balanced look at various videos springing up on YouTube after the event.