The Wapping strikers were subjected to a year-long ordeal of police harassment and attacks. During the course of the strike 1435 pickets and supporters were arrested. Six men were jailed, including SOGAT picket leader Mike Hicks, who was arrested in a dawn raid on his home and jailed for a year with eight months suspended.
The unions’ bi-weekly rallies opposite the plant were heavily policed and many pickets and supporters were subjected to violent attacks. In May 1986 an enormous rally organised to welcome the return of the Printers March for Jobs was attacked by an army of mounted police and police in full riot gear charging repeatedly into the crowds, swinging their batons and grabbing people at random. Hundreds were injured. Calls for an independent public inquiry by the print unions and MPs were rejected.
A report by the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, A Case to Answer, about police handling of the huge January 1987 rally concludes: “The police commanders who planned the strategy saw it as a military operation against an enemy, not as a public order exercise”. Horrifying scenes were witnessed by thousands and widely reported. For the second time the print unions demanded a public inquiry, echoed in the House of Commons by MPs.
The National Council for Civil Liberties (Liberty) and the London Strategic Policy Unit (LSPU) highlighted new trends that were to become familiar during public order policing. One was the practice of officers concealing the numbers on their uniforms.
Another was described by the LSPU: “They did not allow people to leave scenes of violence and dangerously charged into packed crowds in a confined space.” Twenty years later this tactic was to become known as kettling.
The police also attacked TV crews, photographers and legal observers, resulting in some serious injuries. BBC and ITN made formal complaints about police assaults on their crews.
There were so many complaints that an inquiry was held by Northamptonshire police into the conduct of the Met. It concluded that some officers had acted in a “violent and undisciplined way”, but none was ever tried and convicted.