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Conservative Party Conference 2023 Police protest stop: Asian woman ‘singled out’

Passengers on a coach travelling from London to Sunday’s People’s Assembly protest against the Tory conference in Manchester were left traumatised by a police operation, reports PETER LAZENBY

“THEY singled out one person,” said Lewis Baker, a passenger on a coach travelling from London to Manchester to take part in Sunday’s demonstration against the Tory Party conference in the city.

The coach was carrying about 25 passengers.

“They singled out an activist who was an Asian woman. No-one else was searched. She was the only Asian woman on the coach.”

“She had to lean against the coach and they searched her from behind.”

Lewis Baker is a staff member at the Keep Our NHS Public campaign group in London.

“The police pulled in front of the coach. They had a sign on the back saying ‘Follow us.’ We followed them into the service station.”

The service station was Knutsford on the M6 on the outskirts of Manchester. The police service involved was Greater Manchester Police.

“We pulled in. One of them got on the coach. He said they had pulled us over to check if we had got any items on the coach to disrupt the Tory Party conference. They said they had intelligence to say that we did, or something like that — items to disrupt the conference.

“They asked us all to leave the coach so they could do a thorough search of it. So we exited the coach.

“When we were off the coach there were about 30 or 35 police officers surrounding the coach.

“While they were conducting the search of the coach they singled out one of the people on the coach, one of the activists who was an Asian woman and searched her. She was the only individual they searched.

“There were black women on the coach but she was the only Asian woman.

“They searched her. The reason they gave was that they had intelligence that she had plans to disrupt the Tory Party conference. That was the reason they gave for getting her. They did not find anything on her and they let us go.

“The search was carried out outside the coach by two female police officers. I did not see the search.”

Passenger Andrea Gilbert, who is an advocate for travelling communities and works for the homeless charity Crisis, was a steward for the demonstration.

She said: “During the search while we were all huddled in a group she [the Asian woman] was taken to the side of the coach. They said to her that they had intelligence that she had stuff on her to cause disruption for the Tory Party conference.

“They searched her bag. Then they started searching underneath her bra strap. Then she had to hold onto the coach and they searched and they were searching her bra from the back.

“They found absolutely nothing. It was a waste of time, a waste of resources. They make me sick. I am a black woman. I thought they would come to me first. They didn’t even ask for my name. They walked straight to her.

“It was bullshit. She is an activist like everyone else. I’ve never met her before. She just came with us.

“I want to make a complaint about it. I’m ready to rock and roll on this. They did not search anyone else but her. They said there were reasons to believe that there would be and we would be using weapons. But they only searched her.”

The woman is believed to be in her 20s.

Sam Veale is a teacher at St Osmund’s Catholic Primary School in Barnes in London and was travelling on the same coach.

He told the Morning Star: “The first thing that happened was that there was an unmarked police car with an LED sign in the back saying ‘follow me’ which we did. We got pulled into a car park outside an Esso service station. The first thing … was three police cars, and three police vans. I would say probably about 30 police officers.

“One of them came on the coach to tell us what was going on. The rest of them circled the coach by the time this guy got on. He said ‘You are going to be searched.’

“They said they had intelligence information that someone that someone on this coach is planning direct action. He could not say who. He could not say what direct action. He could not say what they were searching for.

“There was nothing we could challenge, and who they were looking for, why they were looking. There was no information so they had free rein to search anyone for any reason. That is what it seemed to us.

“We got off the coach. He said we could take our bags with us which seemed odd. They had no interest in searching our possessions because when we were all outside there was one person taken aside. They were speaking to her. She had no idea why she had been stopped. The police did not search anybody else. They did not talk to anybody else. They did not search our bags. I could have had a bomb in my bag. It was unreal.

“A lot of us were asking the question ‘Why is it just her?’ They said they did not need to tell us why because they were not searching us. They just said they had got intelligence. They specified that they had not searched any other coaches.

“All these vans, cars, police — all the time the thing was a mystery. We were not being informed of anything.”

He said the person who was searched did not know what was going on.

“She understandably was quite shocked at what was going on, but she did not know why it was happening. They just kept going back to saying ‘We have got intelligence.’

“She was compliant, just trying to understand why, of all the people on the coach — look, there were about 20 of us, and there were more coppers than there were of us.

“They gave no reason other than ‘we have got intelligence’.”

Mr Baker said: “They are pulling over peaceful protesters.”

He said the young woman was too traumatised to talk to the Morning Star.

Ms Gilbert also said: “The woman was very traumatised by it. I am a black woman, the darkest on the coach.

“I am traumatised. I have never seen anything like it. I have been involved in activism for 13 years and I have never seen anything like it.”

Police said: “Greater Manchester Police (GMP) is currently running a large-scale operation to protect Manchester city centre and those who live in, work in, or are visiting the city.

“Yesterday, the force received information about the transportation of items which could have been used to cause damage. In response, officers boarded a bus and searched the vehicle and a known individual — resulting in the recovery of a quantity of pyrotechnics.”

Superintendent John Paul Ruffle from GMP Specialist Operations said: “To those who wish to protest, we will always respect the right to do so peacefully, but the safety of the public remains a top priority. This action was taken today to support and facilitate peaceful protest, rather than prevent.”

Police denied any inference of racism.

Ms Gilbert said: “They found a flare on the coach — the sort used on demonstrations. That was it.”

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