Guest blog: Olympic Protesters Arrested for Spilling Custard in Trafalgar Square
A mock awards ceremony at the Olympic Clock in Trafalgar Square descended into farce on Friday 20 July after police arrested seven people taking part. Three people pretending to be corporate representatives from BP, Dow and Rio Tinto were awarded gold medals for being the worst corporate sponsors of the Olympics, before having small quantities of green custard poured over their heads. The good-natured performance took about 15 minutes and was clearly amusing a number of passers by.
After the ceremony was over and the performers were packing up, about 25 police officers arrived and arrested seven people, including the three corporate representatives and people who were mopping up the small amounts of custard on the ground with paper towels.
When confronted, the police officers alleged that ‘criminal damage’ had been done by custard falling on to the stone surface of Trafalgar Square. Before the arrested were even driven away, the controversial custard had been completely cleaned up leaving no trace whatsoever.
One of the arrests was Laurie Flynn, the Chair of Trustees of the Bhopal Medical Appeal who was only observing the event and happened to have picked up the fake medals as part of the tidy-up.
The arrests took place despite the fact that Lord Coe himself has stated: “[the United Kingdom] is a democratic nation, we have a tradition of peaceful demonstrations as long as it doesn’t become a public order issue, we take it as that”. (See Notes)
The Greenwash Gold Ceremony was the culmination of a three month campaign in which members of the public were invited to vote online for they thought was the worst corporate sponsor. The awards were compered by Meredith Alexander, the ex ‘Olympics ethics csar’ who resigned over controversies surrounding Olympic sponsors.
Kevin Smith of London Mining Network said: “Arresting people over small quantities of spilt custard is incredibly heavy handed policing. Peoples’ freedom of expression is being sacrificed at the Olympics in favour of the protection of the brands of controversial sponsors like BP, Dow and Rio Tinto.”
Meredith Alexander who witnessed the arrests said: “It’s an Olympic sized overreaction to arrest people just for telling the truth about the Sponsors. Dow Chemical, BP, and Rio Tinto have bought themselves a global opportunity to present a friendly face. Greenwash Gold was set up to tell the other side of the story- the toxic legacy that each of these companies have left behind. It’s outrageous to think that a 15 minute street performance and some green custard required the attention of around 25 police officers. If the companies can’t stand a bit of critical attention, they shouldn’t have sponsored London 2012, which is meant to be the greenest games ever.”
Colin Toogood of the Bhopal Medical Appeal said: “After Lord Coe’s own statement claiming he supported peaceful protests, these arrests look like giving LOCOG yet another PR headache. This was a peaceful and legitimate protest, against terrible corporate sponsors, and protesters seem to have been arrested for spilling a small amount of custard!”
At the final pre-Olympic press conference of LOCOG and the IOC, on 30th March, Lord Coe made the statement that: “[the United Kingdom] is a democratic nation, we have a tradition of peaceful demonstrations as long as it doesn’t become a public order issue, we take it as that”.
He further stated that, after months of refusal, he was now ready to meet the Bhopal campaign groups. Neither Lord Coe, nor LOCOG, has made any attempt to contact the Bhopal Medical Appeal since then despite a registered letter, sent by the Bhopal Medical Appeal, on 2nd April, specifically requesting that meeting.