On the day before last years tax is due for payment, the UKUncut organisation staged a series of protests to highlight to the general public that some of our largest enterprises are avoiding tax through sophisticated schemes.
Previous articles on UKUncut:
The event began at Boots on Oxford Street where on the stroke of 1pm a group of about 20 people, inside the Boots store, transformed themselves into patients and medical staff and acted out a hospital scene. This was representing the hospital that could have been funded if Boots had paid the full rate of corporation tax and not the lower rate which they had been able to achieve through their Swiss ownership. As with all of these cases, this is legitimate avoidance, however by UKUncut, this is considered not acceptable.
Early on, a middle-aged lady was forcibly evicted from Boots in an unnecessarily violent way despite the rest of the protestors being allowed to proceed with their enactment. The police officer responsible would re-appear later in the day.
The protest did the rounds of the usual Oxford Street stores of Vodafone, BHS and Top Shop, eventually returning back to Boots. The whole event was very good natured, policing was light and despite a brief request to avoid “rushing” shops which it was felt would intimidate shoppers and staff, the day went off with no trouble…..until……
In an alley way adjacent to Boots, a scuffle broke out and much commotion ensued and a young woman was arrested – apparently for posting a letter into Boots. There was a lot of shouting and people rushing to support the young woman, and then a number of protestors started running back towards the street, faces creased and streaming with pain. A CS spray (like pepper spray) canister had been let off by one of the Police officers catching a number of people – I saw only 5 people who were affected. The smell of the gas, wafted into the street – there was no doubt what had happened. The young officer who fired the canister came off worst. This particular officer had been noticeable by his unusually violent, and unpredicatble behaviour throughout the event, so it came as no surprise that he was responsible. After recovering his composure he was taken away.
Water was quickly poured over the faces of the affected to ease the pain, including the police officer. I understand that the recommended action, given to me by the police, was not to do this, but to allow cold air to blow it away – apparently water makes it worse. At no point was this advice given, until it was too late – and even the police officer responsible had clearly not been told this. An ambulance arrived to take those affected for treatment at the nearby hospital.
The police presence quickly multiplied, as did the number of casual observers on the opposite side of the street. It was clear that the police had expected some form of trouble and were prepared for this eventuality – but in reality, the police caused the trouble.
Despite questioning a number of police officers, it was not clear why this was considered a reasonable justification for the use of the spray. It was evident from the body language and response from other police officers that this may have been considered an over-reaction; the senior officer wandered off at one point, with a phone pressed to his ear, when asked if this deployment was in line with police recommendations. We didn’t see him again.
What would have been a quiet news event became one of significance; I suspect that this police officer may be subject to some severe questioning over the next few days. He may be “Uncut” rather earlier than he had expected.