Injuries and arrests
Almost everyone taking part in demonstrations at Wapping was shocked by the behaviour of the police, not only individual acts of thuggery and brutishness, but by organised attacks on demonstrators as if in combat with enemy troops. Arrests started very quickly, and as the numbers of protestors increased so did the brutality of the police, on foot and on horseback, charging into the crowd, brandishing batons, shields and truncheons, hitting people about the head. Such was the concern of the strikers, their families and the trade unions, that a team of independent legal observers was formed and trained to make detailed notes of arrests and police activity. Several independent reports were published about police behaviour during the dispute.
Up until May 1986 an average of 1014 police were on duty each week at Wapping, one for every six workers sacked. By August arrests were averaging 65 each week. By the end of January 1987 1306 people had been arrested. The Haldane Society estimated that more than half of the charges made were dismissed when defendants agreed to be bound over. In one sample of 85 people arrested, 66 had no evidence offered against them, but were bound over to keep the peace, thus effectively denying them an opportunity of participating fully in the dispute, since they could be targeted for further arrest. Many arrests were random, carried out by snatch squads.
1744 police were deployed during the huge protest on 3rd May 1986. Print unions and MPs called for a public enquiry into the police attacks when, on that day alone, 250 people were injured. Of 44 reported injuries 24 were to the head.
Six printworkers were given prison sentences of varying lengths including the most prominent steward of demonstrations and marches at Wapping, Mike Hicks. Jailed in December Hicks was a marked man for his role in keeping up morale during demonstrations and being the leader of the SOGAT London wholesale workers.
Tower Hamlets Trades Council estimated that 100 local residents had been arrested by June 1986 for protesting about the siege conditions imposed by police roadblocks and no-go areas as well as support for the strikers.
During the anniversary demonstration on 24th January 1987 TV crews, photographers and legal observers were injured as well as demonstrators. Stewards estimated that more than 200 demonstrators were injured, with 34 casualties treated at St Bartholomew’s hospital. 68 people were arrested. At least 1360 police were used. Again the print unions and MPs called unsuccessfully for an independent public enquiry.
An inquiry held by Northamptonshire Police established that 99 were injured that day and there were 94 other incidents involving injury to unidentified individuals. Consequently 185 people lodged complaints and allegations against the police but although the Crime Prosecution Service instituted proceedings against 24 serving police officers and two former officers, no-one was ever held to account.