The leadership of the Church of England showed themselves to have the morals of sewer rats today after hundreds of police were drafted in to prevent a peaceful protest by disabled campaigners.
A protest was taking place in the grounds of Westminster Abbey, where Disabled People Against Cuts, backed by Occupy and UK Uncut, intended to establish a camp for independent living to highlight the shameful decision by the current Government to close the Independent Living Fund (ILF). Whilst many people were able to enter the grounds of the Abbey, with several disabled activists taking control of the gates, they were soon joined by hundreds of police.
Whilst the protest was being established a letter was presented to the church explaining the reason for the disruption. This was completely ignored by the Dean of Westminster, John Hall, who instead of meeting with the protesters, or even giving a statement, cowered inside and allowed the police to carry out his dirty work. At the time I left two people had been arrested, for reasons which are currently unclear. Over 200 police kettled the 60 or so protesters, which included many severely disabled people who use the ILF themselves. Police refused to allow any food or drink for those inside the Abbey grounds, and even prevented a severely disabled person’s personal assistant from entering the kettle.
At one point, so desperate were the police to arrest someone for nothing, they charged into the crowd causing people to fall onto several wheelchair users. Such was the sudden aggression of police it is a miracle no-one was severely injured although unconfirmed reports suggest one disabled person did have to receive treatment after this assault. Police also attempted to remove access ramps for wheelchairs users to prevent them from being able to peacefully protest in the Abbey grounds. Equipment was damaged and police prevented the planned disabled toilet and other infra-structures to be created which would have led to a safe event. Throughout the afternoon all those inside the grounds remained at risk of violent arrest, and in fact, as you read this, that might be happening.
The protest was held on private property, meaning that the church leadership were happy for all of this to take place. At any point the Dean of Westminster could have demanded that police stand down, yet he chose to allow this abuse to continue unchecked throughout the afternoon. Hundreds of people contacted him on twitter demanding the protest be allowed to continue without this police harassment. The Dean ignored all of them.
Throughout the afternoon all attempts at negotiation with the church leadership were rebuffed. Instead the Dean of Westminster let the boots and fists of the ever willing London Met do his talking for him.
Whilst no-one expects anything less from the police, who have a history of attacking and injuring disabled protesters, the action, or inaction of the church leadership is a fucking disgrace. The Dean of Westminster would rather disabled people are abused, kettled, assaulted and kept without food or water than allow a creative protest against vicious cuts which are likely to lead to some people being forced to live in institutions.
The latest news is that those inside the Abbey grounds are currently meeting to decide what to do next. With no word from the Church then staying could mean mass arrests in the ground of the Abbey. Whatever the occupiers decide you can show support by telling Westminster Abbey @wabbey and the Dean of Westminster @deanwestminster exactly what you think. After today’s shameful behaviour he must be hoping that the existence of hell really is just something liars use to scare children with.
Then come and join next Friday’s Independence Day demonstration outside the DWP and make it the biggest protest yet to show that no-one is going to be frightened away from fighting to save the ILF.
Read the statement from DPAC on the reason for the protest: http://www.independentliving-fightback.uk/online/
UPDATE: Protesters have now left rather than face violent arrest. Also, as someone has pointed out on twitter, Westminster Abbey is a Royal Peculiar, meaning it is technically under control of the Queen. Day to day management of the site however is down to the Abbey meaning it is almost certain the police would have stood down had the Dean demanded it. Yet he didn’t even try. All the signs so far suggest he did the opposite and would have been happy for the police to clear the site. There has still been no comment made about today’s events by either the Dean or Westminster Abbey. Of the two arrested, it seems one was not held and was released during the protest and another was taken to Charing Cross police station.
Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid