So what initially was presented as a kind of tragic coincidence - with a little black propaganda thrown in: although presumably that's more or less automatic, like a Catholic crossing themselves as they walk into church - seems simply tragic now. Unfortunately, tragedies aren't always acts of blind fate. Med Hughes of ACPO was on the Today programme on Saturday claiming that “we’ve moved away from a historical period where simply the police service was, if you like, the arm of the executive and would prevent protest” (around 3.30 here; via Alex). As Stuart White points out here, kettling hardly seems like the considered democratic response by the agents of law and order to the threat of peaceful protest: it is suspicious of citizens attempting to do what democratic citizens ought to and civilly but firmly questionning the acts of their governors, and disrupts, seriously, their attempts to do so and to do so under conditions and at risks roughly of their own choosing. Disruption and suspicion are not prevention, so I suppose Hughes didn't tell an outright lie; on the other hand, if everytime a police officer tried to arrest anyone, groups of people surrounded them and wouldn't let them move from a restricted area, I imagine you'd hear from ACPO pretty quickly. Assaulting passers-by isn't prevention either, of course, just as describing it as disruption'd be fairly euphemistic. One wonders though, how far apart imprisoning, possibly illegally, large numbers of peacefully protesters, and getting a few kicks in when you have the chance are.
Update, 09/04/09: Sometimes tiny differences can make all the difference.