Trial opens of nine cyclists arrested at Critical Mass on night of Olympic opening ceremony
Accused were among 182 cyclists arrested in police operation
The trial has opened this morning at Westminster Magistrates’ Court of nine cyclists charged with public order offences during a Critical Mass Ride on the evening of the Olympic Games opening ceremony on Friday 27 July last year.
The nine are among 182 cyclists arrested in three separate incidents on the evening concerned, one in Bow and another in Stratford, who were taken by bus to police stations throughout London and held for between six hours and two days, according to a website set up to support them, Justice for the Critical Mass 9.
There were plans for cyclists to stage a protest outside the court this morning to show their support for the nine who are standing trial.
It has been claimed that the police, who included officers drawn from police forces across the UK brought in for the Olympics, kettled cyclists and also used pepper spray on some of them.
The Justice for the Critical Mass 9 website has quotes from a number of cyclists arrested, including one who was simply riding by at the time: “I was cycling home (to watch the Olympic ceremony) when a Police Officer shouted ‘STOP’ and immediately pushed me off my bike.
“It took three weeks for the bruising on my hip and arm to fade, and two weeks for the bruising from the handcuffs to fade.”
Another said: “It wasn’t until about 8am the following day that I was finally taken to the police station. By that point I was tired and hungry.
“The police registered my arrival as being at 11.30pm or so the night before, which was a lie as we were still sitting on buses at that time.”
Others spoke of how they spent hours without food or drink as well as being denied other basic needs: “Finally, at around midnight, an Inspector came onto the bus and told us he would address the toilet problem.
“His solution was that people could go one by one. Not only this, but the police would stand in the toilet with the person using it. Monitored toilet trips.
“This started out ok, but two other buses joined the area equally full. This meant sixty people using one toilet over a four hour period.”
There is also a comprehensive eyewitness account on the Opendemocracy.net website by Kerry Anne Mendoza, one of the organisers of the Our Olympics campaign.
She saw the Critical Mass ride pass the bed and breakfast she was staying in at Bow, took to a Boris Bike to join in, and found herself caught up in the police operation.
It may have been the threat of action from the Our Olympics movement that Ms Mendoza was part of that led to police being on heightened alert.
The group, which encompassed members of the Occupy movement as well as people opposed to the involvement of businesses such as BP and McDonald’s in the Games, had said it would undertake actions of mass civil disobedience the day after the opening ceremony, Saturday 28 July, promising that “It's going to be a day we never forget.”
Prior to the Olympic Games, the Metropolitan Police had urged protestors to get in touch to enable a policing plan to be drawn up, with a spokesman saying: “We want to work with those who wish to protest so their point can be legitimately made, just as we are working closely with a range of agencies to ensure that the games can take place.”
In common with most Critical Mass rides around the world, the one in London, which began in April 1994, does not have organisers and is viewed by participants not as a protest but as a celebration of cycling.
It gathers at the South Bank on the last Friday of each month and heads off on an undefined route that will often take in locations such as Parliament Square.
In 2005, the Metropolitan Police sought to have ‘organisers’ submit a route for authorisation six days before each Critical Mass in London in line with Section 11 of the Public Order Act 1986.
One participant sought and obtained a declaration from the High Court that Critical Mass should be exempt from those requirements, and while the police successfully appealed to the Court of Appeal, the House of Lords upheld the original decision that no notification is required.
On the night of the Olympic opening ceremony on 27 July, police had warned participants to stay on the south side of the Thames and away from the Olympic Park.
A message on the London Critical Mass website at the time said: "Most London cyclists will know about the regular monthly Critical Mass ride this evening.
“Many will also know that the police seem concerned about it, because of all the Olympic traffic.
"It might be assumed that, as usual, the mood of Critical Mass will be to peacefully assert the right of cyclists to travel safely wherever they want in London.
"But in case the police – who normally leave Critical Mass alone – were to decide to intervene this month, it would be good to have lots of people prepared to be peacefully assertive."
Following the events on the night of the Olympic opening ceremony, the website stated: "It appears the ride was joined by some other groups and it became considerably fragmented, though London CM itself is being given all the credit for what took place."