Police make 18 arrests after tram tracks blocked following 'Kill the Bill' demonstration in Manchester

Police made 18 arrests after protesters blocked tram tracks in Manchester city centre today following a ‘Kill the Bill’ demonstration against planned Government legislation. Greater Manchester Police said a ‘largely peaceful and contained group of protesters’ gathered at St Peter’s Square at around 1pm. It’s estimated several hundred were involved.

A march to Stevenson Square in the Northern Quarter took place before the protest returned to St Peter’s Square. They majority, police said, left by 4pm, but some remained. The force said ‘significant disruption’ was caused by a small group who sat down on the tracks, bringing trams to a halt.

Police move in at St Peter’s Square

‘Repeated prior warnings’ were given, said GMP, before officers moved in.

As a result, 18 arrests were made. Police chiefs said the blocking of tram tracks was ‘clearly unacceptable’ and ‘could not be tolerated any longer’. A legal observer however, who was present at the time, accused police of being ‘heavy-handed’ as officers moved in.

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You can sign up very simply by following the instructions here A row of GMP tactical aid unit vans was captured parked up on Oxford Street, which was closed off by the police. Officers advanced from there.

Police make 18 arrests after tram tracks blocked following 'Kill the Bill' demonstration in ManchesterProtesters on tram tracks

Video footage showed a line of officers walking towards, then through, the group of protesters sat down on the tracks at St Peter’s Square.

Some stood up and walked away as they approached. But others were forcibly removed from the tracks by officers, as trams appeared to move in to cover the areas where they were sat. A number of people were led or carried away by officers.

Officers were also shown to kick away signs and placards along the ground. One man was carried away by three officers who appeared to be reading him his rights as they walked.

Police make 18 arrests after tram tracks blocked following 'Kill the Bill' demonstration in ManchesterA still taken from the video footage

In a statement, GMP said: “Eighteen people have been arrested after disruption in Manchester city centre this afternoon. “Police were aware of and were monitoring a largely peaceful and contained group of protesters that had gathered at St Peter’s Square at around 1pm on Saturday 27 March.

“A majority of the crowd had left by around 4pm but some of those who remained began to sit on the Metrolink line at St Peter’s Square and cause significant disruption to transport networks and members of the public in the city centre. “After repeated prior warnings from officers, who had positively engaged with those present all afternoon, police moved in and removed those obstructing the tram lines. “Those who remained and were obstructing the tram lines were moved away by police.

“A total of 18 people were arrested.”

Police make 18 arrests after tram tracks blocked following 'Kill the Bill' demonstration in ManchesterPolice said a group remained behind after the demonstration

Chief Superintendent Andy Sidebotham said: “We have been working closely with partners and engaging with those present at the protest all afternoon to avoid any risk or disruption to the wider public in the city centre and today’s event was largely peaceful and without issue. “However, as the day went on the remaining group caused significant disruption to the public of Greater Manchester. I understand the desire to peacefully protest but by blocking trams this smaller group prevented passengers from travelling to work for essential journeys, including health and care workers.

“This was clearly unacceptable and, in our duty to serve the public, we could not allow to be tolerated any longer. “I would like to pay tribute to the patience of the public today whilst we brought this to a conclusion. “This importantly comes down to the people of Greater Manchester and a small minority today ultimately caused them a great deal of disruption which required us to step in and bring it to a fair and swift conclusion.”

Legal observer Ciara Bartlam, a barrister, was present throughout the protest and later when arrests were made.

Police make 18 arrests after tram tracks blocked following 'Kill the Bill' demonstration in ManchesterThe protest in Manchester

She said: “Generally speaking everything was quite peaceful at the beginning. “The protest started in St Peter’s Square with an assembly and then moved over to Stevenson Square via Portland Street. “From the beginning there was quite a large police presence.

“Everything proceeded I would say peacefully. There were no grabbings or anything like that.” Of the police moving on those sat blocking the tracks, Ms Bartlam said: ” They [the police] told protesters to move and at that point, as soon as the command was given to move, the officers became heavy-handed and pushed protesters off quite physically – grabbing, lifting, throwing protesters off the tracks.

“To my mind, as someone who was legally observing, that was unnecessary. “There was no ‘can you move, this is what’s going to happen if you don’t move’. It was ‘move’ and then the physicality of it.”

Aska Raval, 21, a student, said: “We wouldn’t have women’s rights if we didn’t protest. It feels like they want to silence people who want to stand up for what’s not right. “If they’re passing these types of bills then people are going to want to be heard.

“This is literally the only way we can do it.” Student Bryony Furlonger, 18, added: “This bill is so awful. It’s the fact that it’s erasing people’s right to protest.”

The proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill would give police in England and Wales more power to impose conditions on non-violent protests, including those deemed too noisy or a nuisance, with those convicted liable to fines or jail terms. Violence has erupted and been directed towards police after demonstrations in Bristol. The bill passed a second reading in Parliament earlier this month, with 359 Conservative MPs voting in favour, and 263 opposition MPs voting against – including 194 Labour MPs.

Those in attendance at the Manchester protest today said the bill was trying to ‘crack down on our basic human rights’.

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