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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 February, 2004, 17:37 GMT
Police 'abused power' during demo
Police vans escorting the buses: photo courtesy of Amnesty
The buses did not stop during the journey back to London
Protesters have won their High Court battle over a police decision to detain them on their way to RAF Fairford for an anti-war demonstration.

Lawyers for half the 120 passengers, stopped from protesting last March, accused Gloucestershire Police of acting unlawfully.

Three coaches were stopped, searched and escorted back to London.

The court ruled that police abused common law when they detained the demonstrators for more than two hours.

Lord Justice May and Mr Justice Harrison, sitting in London, ruled that the protesters' detention and forced return could also not be justified under the European Convention on Human Rights.

We think what the police are required to do in a situation like this is assess every individual separately
Solicitor John Halford

But the court did back the police's contention that they were entitled - and obliged - to take preventative action as they "reasonably and honestly" believed that breaches of the peace would have occurred if the coaches reached Fairford.

In its judgement, the court also said there "...may be circumstances in which individual discrimination amongst a large numbers of uncooperative people may be impractical" and that this was such a case.

John Halford, solicitor for the protesters, told BBC News 24: "The court made it clear that we won on the main issues and awarded all of our costs against the police."

Body armour

One of the leading protesters, Jane Laporte, said: "It was just completely surreal being surrounded by motorcycle outriders and Land Rovers and police filming us constantly while we were on the coaches.

"We couldn't believe it was happening in this country.

"This is why we were supposed to be going to war in Iraq, because people were being denied their freedom of speech, and it was happening to us."

Police and protesters: photo courtesy of Amnesty
There is no word of criticism whatsoever in the judgement
Gloucestershire Police

Items removed by police from the coaches included masks, white overalls, scissors, five shields and body armour.

The protesters were on their way to join a demonstration against the war in Iraq when they were detained for more than two hours.

They were then escorted back to London without stopping in a two and a half hour journey with no toilet facilities on the buses.

The circumstance and length of this detention were ruled by the court to be "wholly disproportionate".

'No one hurt'

A statement by Gloucestershire Police read: "The court has made it clear that the operational commander on the ground was lawfully entitled to turn those coaches away. In fact, it was his duty to do so.

"While the court has decided that it was wrong for the police to escort those coaches back, they made it clear that there was no basis whatsoever for doubting the Operational Commander's intentions or motives in doing so. He was acting in entirely good faith.

"In fact, there is no word of criticism whatsoever in the judgement.

"The fact that no one was hurt that day and that a lawful protest was able to take place with the cooperation of the local community and without disruption to military operations demonstrates that this operation was entirely successful."

Both the police and protesters have been given leave to appeal.

Mr Halford said protesters planned to appeal against the court's ruling that two articles of human rights law had not been breached, and were looking at compensation claims.

The BBC's June Kelly
"The protestors could be in line for thousands of pounds in damages"

'How we were kept on coach'
19 Feb 04  |  Gloucestershire
Rights abuse claim at airbase
16 Jul 03  |  Gloucestershire
Police pay price of war in Iraq
23 Jun 03  |  Gloucestershire
Extra cash to police Fairford
27 Mar 03  |  England

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