COP26: Scottish justice secretary defends 'proportionate' policing during summit over kettling claims

Scotland’s justice secretary has said he is “satisfied” Police Scotland is adopting a “proportionate” response to protests during COP26, amid criticism of the force’s tactics during the climate summit.

Keith Brown said the policing of the conference and the multiple protests surrounding it was an “operational matter” for the force’s chief constable, Iain Livingstone, but stressed that officers were “trying extremely hard” to facilitate those holding demonstrations.

Scottish Green MSPs Maggie Chapman and Ross Greer have written to the force’s chief superintendent Mark Sutherland, expressing concern at “disproportionate policing” of protests on Saturday, and claiming that a mother with a young child in a buggy was among those caught up in a kettle during the large-scale march through Glasgow city centre.

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Addressing Holyrood on Tuesday, Ms Chapman said while she appreciated the force was responsible for operational matters, it was the Scottish Parliament that “sets the limits within which the police can operate, and it is important to understand the government’s position in relation to this limit”.

She told her fellow MSPs: “I am concerned that some of the tactics deployed during the COP have not taken account of these important principles.

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“The use of kettling tactics on peaceful protestors is wholly disproportionate, and there are reports of journalists kettled for hours with no access to water or toilets, and of a young mother with a baby in a pram trapped in a kettle.”

She asked Mr Brown: “It can’t be right that children are being kettled. Does the Cabinet secretary believe that kettling is a proportionate tactic to use when dealing with peaceful protest?”

Police Scotland has been criticised for its response to COP26 protests. Picture: Ian Forsyth/Getty

Mr Brown said Police Scotland had been “clear from the start” the planning and delivery for the event would be compliant with human rights legislation, and that it would facilitate peaceful and lawful protests.

He said he was holding daily conversations with the force, which had reassured him about their operations.

“I am satisfied that they are trying extremely hard to make sure that they are facilitating protests and that their response has been proportionate,” he explained.

Ms Chapman raised the issue of one group of marchers on Saturday who were halted by police and prevented from continuing on the march.

Mr Brown said the police would refer to such tactics as “moving containment” and used it where protestors had sat down at the front of the march, presenting a “danger to the public”.

He also condemned the “very small minority” of protestors who had sprayed liquid or spray paint into the faces of officers, and said there were examples of officers having been “hit over the head”.

About 100,000 people took part in the procession from Kelvingrove Park to Glasgow Green on Saturday. Officers made 22 arrests.

The COP26 Coalition, which organised the march and rally, described the policing as "heavy-handed and disproportionate”.

Last week, the group published an open letter to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, claiming there had been a "disproportionately high" number of officers deployed, and accusing the force of "intrusive police surveillance”.

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