A short walk down Whitehall…

On the day of the Queen’s speech, I was on my way to a London demo of Remploy workers. But in Whitehall there was a phalanx of police officers armed with Heckler-Koch assault weapons. As they wore expressions that discouraged a carefree promenade down the public highway I tried to cut through St James’s Park.

A chain of crash barriers snaked from Trafalgar Square right down the Mall. At a dead end outside the Horse Guards parading ground, a voice behind me said: “Excuse me sir, can I look in your bag?”

Two police officers were looking at the cloth bag across my back that carries the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) banner and poles. They joked that it was to make sure I wasn’t carrying a bazooka.

When I told them I was going to a trade union protest they asked if I’d be on the 10 May demonstration – they planned to go to the same day’s demo against police cuts. “Maybe we’ll see each other tomorrow carrying placards, hope we don’t get kettled!” one of them said, laughing.

They sent me on my way, saying there would be no problem going down Whitehall. But Whitehall was lined with armed officers every ten paces. The Horse Guards were also marching about but it is difficult to feel threatened by men in giant woolly hats, even if they carry automatic weapons.

At the Defence Ministry I’d hit another dead end and two police officers quickly approached me. The last pair had been cordial, these two were not.

Saying I was being searched on suspicion of concealing a deadly weapon they asked: What was the NSSN? Who set it up? What was its purpose? What union was I a member of? What branch was I in? Who organised the protest?

The officers couldn’t understand why I went down Whitehall just as the Queen was heading for Parliament. “You do realise you’ve had snipers on the roof looking at you?” I looked up. Sure enough a figure perched on the Cabinet Office roof was looking down at me. Suppressing the feeling that a goose had just walked over my grave I explained to them again about the protest and being given the all-clear after my previous search.

The officers wanted to know why I wasn’t protesting tomorrow. When I asked if they would be protesting on the police march I got a flat no. Clearly there are different police attitudes to the Police Federation demo.

I was strongly “advised” that it would not be a good idea to head for Parliament and presented with a receipt declaring the investigation into the search for a deadly weapon had proven negative.

Neil Cafferky