Fears Thatcher funeral will turn into security nightmare
POLICE are bracing themselves for the likelihood that Margaret Thatcher's partially state-funded ceremonial funeral will attract protesters as anger mounts over her controversial legacy and the Government's decision to honour her with the help of taxpayer's money.
Chatter on websites, social media and forums that are popular with protest networks has revealed multiple plans by groups to either demonstrate during the funeral itself or hold "Maggie's dead parties" on the same day.
Others have recommended celebrations in the days leading up to next Wednesday's funeral with one party slated for 6pm in Trafalgar Square this Saturday evening.
If the plans come to fruition they present a logistical headache for the Metropolitan Police who will have to balance making sure the funeral procession is not disrupted whilst respecting the public's right to voice their opinion on one of Britain's most divisive modern day politicians.
It is believed officers who specialise in public order issues are currently monitoring social media, websites and Blackberry's BBM messaging networks over the coming days for any sign of protest.
Their concerns have been fuelled by a number of impromptu street parties which broke out on Monday evening in Leeds, Bristol, Brixton and Glasgow - some of which resulted in arrests after sporadic clashes with police.
The Metropolitan Police said it had no specific information on what plans are being drawn up to counter public order problems during the funeral but it is known preparations for the procession have been in the works for the last three years.
It is likely that officers will need to line the entire route from the Houses of Parliament to St Paul's Cathedral to make sure that the procession is not stopped.
"London's police, the MPS, City of London and British Transport Police, are working together to deliver a security operation for Baroness Thatcher's funeral. Given the nature of the event our operation will use of a range of appropriate tactics,' a spokesman said."
The Met's first large scale challenge is likely to be an impromptu party which anti-Thatcher protesters are planning for this Saturday in Trafalgar Square - a corner of London forever associated with the moment the former Prime Minister's power began to crumble as the poll tax protests turned violent.
Flyers, some of which have been on websites popular with protest groups since 2004, have long called for a party in the square for the first Saturday after Mrs Thatcher's death.
Part of the difficulty for police is the inherently spontaneous nature of the protesters who are wary of alerting anyone to their plans before they happen.
Daniel, a 26-year-old from South London who was at the Brixton protest and is helping to organise something similar for Saturday evening, told The Independent: "There's never been an event with such an historic publicity run-up. At Brixton, the samba band and a sound system just turned up. Something similar will happen on Saturday: people will come and there'll be a few portable sound systems there."
He believed protests would only turn violent if the police tried to stop them voicing their opinion on Mrs Thatcher. "It would be unwise of the police to come down hard," he said. "Even just a heavy police presence will provoke a reaction."
The possibility of protests during the funeral has raised fears that police may adopt the controversial tactic of making pre-emptive arrests.
Two years ago the Met caused controversy when it arrested scores of people in the run up to the wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton.
Some of those arrested took their case to the High Court which ruled that, on the facts of the individual cases, the arrests were lawful. An appeal is set to take place later this summer. At the time of the original case one of the arguments police used to justify the arrests was to protect minority protesters from angry crowds.
However the legislation that allows for pre-emptive arrests is narrow and human rights lawyers have warned police chiefs against any pre-funeral sweeps.
Michael Oswald, from Bhatt Murphy Solicitors, which represented 15 people who were arrested on during the Royal Wedding, said: "There must be a concern that the events that took place in Bristol and Brixton last night will be used by the police to justify the kind of tactics that were seen in the run-up to and during the Royal Wedding.
Whatever one thinks about the rights and wrongs of protesting during a funeral the law protects people's freedom to voice their opinions publicly in a peaceful manner."
Meanwhile anger is mounting over the notion that Mrs Thatcher's funeral will be partially paid for by the taxpayer. The bill for the funeral and policing will be shared between the former Prime Minister's estate and the Government.
A petition on the government's e-petitions website calling for Mrs Thatcher not to be given a state funeral had gathered 27,000 signatures by this afternoon.
Lady Thatcher is in fact being given a "ceremonial funeral" - one rung down from a state funeral. A second petition on the Change.org website saying tax payers should not fund the funeral and that it should be privatised had also gained more than 1,500 signatures.