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BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST HOSTED BY PETER SISSONS INTERVIEW: JOHN ELLIOTT and NORMAN BLAIR JULY 29TH, 2001
Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used
PETER SISSONS: Now the G8 summit in Genoa which we've just been talking about has left an uneasy legacy for the Italian authorities. They've been forced to agree to investigate the actions of their own police force over accusations of torture and brutality. In a moment I'll be talking to one of the British protestors who was put in prison by the Carabinieri but first this report from Darius Bazargan who was in Genoa last week.
[FILM REPORT BY DARIUS BAZARGAN]
PETER SISSONS: And that was Darius well with me now in the studio is Norman Blair who was in the school when the police raided and John Elliott the Sunday Times journalist who went under cover and also suffered at the hands of the Italian Police. Norman first just relive those moments for us if it isn't too painful.
NORMAN BLAIR: It's fairly difficult, it's one of the most terrifying moments in my life, I was asleep on the first floor of that school and I heard this huge crashing sound from the street outside and then a few minutes later the police smashed their way into that room, badly beat up my friend Daniel McQuillan, he had a serious head injury, broken wrist, bruising all down his left side. Through some miracle I only had a few blows myself but I was terrified. It was, it was an absolute nightmare.
PETER SISSONS: They thought, or they say they thought that there was a violent anarchist group, the Black Block staying there?
NORMAN BLAIR: The place was more like a youth hostel, it was young people, people were asleep, it was all quiet, nothing like that was going on there.
PETER SISSONS: The, the police action has been condemned by Italian Opposition Senators as pure fascism, was that the right word from your point of view?
NORMAN BLAIR: What I really felt was that it was like a police state in operation. That we were just beaten up straight away, there was no attempt of arrest or questioning anyone, we were beaten up and then particularly this period that we were held in a holding centre for myself personally I was held for about, I think, 28, 30 hours but obviously things get a bit confused. But there was no rule of law there, that was a place of torture, you know I would say very clearly I was kidnapped and tortured by the Italian Police and by the Italian State. I've made a statement which I've sent to the authorities in Italy and I feel very angry and very upset about what happened to me.
PETER SISSONS: John what was your impression as a reporter of the police who were on duty for that event?
JOHN ELLIOTT: Well something clearly went very badly wrong with the policing, they were aggressive, from what I can tell they were hitting people indiscriminately, protestors and also, I mean I was there under cover so they were hitting BBC cameramen, photographers who were covered in stickers so they couldn't have been anything else. But they were also very scared, you know they were having, in the middle of the violence they were having rocks thrown at them the entire time, protestors were throwing tear gas back at them. So it was a very bad day for the police.
PETER SISSONS: And what happened to you?
JOHN ELLIOTT: Well I'd, I'd sort of moved back from the violence to take some photos as a water cannon truck came down the street and so protestors were being blown into doorways and then suddenly I got this massive whack round the back of my head and sort of whited out, and it's a policeman who'd whacked me with a truncheon and the cycle helmet I was wearing completely disintegrated. Then they kind of dragged me across these railway lines and beat me up for about five minutes and then arrested me and took me to a police station.
PETER SISSONS: The response now of the British government is, is obviously going to be watched very, very carefully but what contact have you had with them Norman, was a statement taken from you, have they come to see you, Tony Blair's first reaction was that the police were doing a good job in difficult circumstances?
NORMAN BLAIR: You know to be honest Peter I'm disgusted by what's happened, that you know I hear, when I got back, you know while I was actually being tortured by the Italian Police in this holding centre Tony Blair would praise them and then I came back maybe Thursday morning, it was about 10am on Thursday morning I arrived back at Heathrow and since then I've had absolutely no contact from the Foreign Office, they know where I live, they have my home telephone number, I've, in fact myself I've faxed, faxed this statement over to Peter Hain yesterday morning, I'm horrified they've made no attempt to contact me. It's appalling their behaviour.
PETER SISSONS: Have you taken legal advice?
NORMAN BLAIR: I have contacted lawyers in Italy and I'm going to be taking legal action against the police in Italy as are everyone else who was arrested in that school that I've talked to.
PETER SISSONS: John do you think these demonstrators like Norman who went along for peaceful purposes were a bit na´ve knowing that this demonstration was always going to be leached on by anarchist elements who had a totally different agenda?
JOHN ELLIOTT: Well it's a very difficult question but you know people should be allowed to protest peacefully and it's up to the police to ensure that violence doesn't happen. You know the people I went, travelled down there with, anti-capitalist ??? very nice people but I do think that there is, the protest was subverted by, sort of very hard core anarchist elements and in the middle of the crowds you could see them leading people forward.
PETER SISSONS: And a final word Norman, would you do it again?
NORMAN BLAIR: Absolutely that's one of the things I'm not scared or intimidated, they wanted to break me and I'm not broken and I feel strengthened and inspired by the strength of our movement around the world.
PETER SISSONS: Norman Blair, John Elliott thank you.
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