Billboard Bustcards

‘Bustcards’ are flyers handed out at demonstrations, to inform protestors of their legal rights, in the event that should they be arrested or stopped and searched. They are a response to the police’s long track-record of abusing their powers.

Stop and search laws were initially passed to catch people carrying hidden weapons. Now, they are routinely used as a tactic to bully protestors and teenagers in the street, and to collect their personal data. Officers dishonestly claim that the law obliges us to give out our details – it does not. We are repeatedly told that we can’t photograph police – this is false. People are often cajoled into talking about criminal allegations before they’ve seen any prosecution evidence, though it’s usually in their interests to say ‘no comment’. The police have even developed special sneaky tactics to get around stop and search guidelines, including fishing your bank card from your wallet, then demanding you give your name and address in order to ‘prove’ that it’s really yours. Clever.

An idea to produce giant, billboard-sized bust-cards had been kicking around Hijacker HQ for some months – initially with the aim of installing them in places where police traditionally gather to bully teenagers.

But, the advent of the demonstration on 26 March – anticipated to be the biggest since the two million-strong Iraq march in 2003 – saw some interesting developments in the already-pretty-bloody-fascinating world of protest support and legal monitoring.

Bust-card bust-up
Firstly, against a backdrop of the TUC disowning all ‘non-affiliated’ feeder-marches, they got cosier with the cops than any other previously organised mass-action, with their chief stewards even having direct lines of communication with police commanders.

(To their credit, the TUC – as far as I’m aware – haven’t followed Aaron Porter’s pathetic example, and have maintained a respectable silence on the media’s attempts to divide the ‘good’ protestors from the ‘baddies’, instead focusing on Saturday's enormous united display of public anger at the government’s devastating, ideological attacks on society’s most vulnerable groups.)

Secondly, having turned down offers of legal observers from a number of groups, claiming this would give the ‘wrong impression’, the job was given to Liberty. Which doesn’t sound so terrible at first… except that they jumped into bed with the police too. (If you’ve ever witnessed a ménage a trois (as I have) between Bob Broadhurst, Shami Chakrabarti, and Brendan Barber, you’ll understand why this is a bad thing.)

Liberty were not only given access to the Sauron-esque surveillance machine of the police, but ordered to grass up activists who were seen to misbehave. Kind of missing the point of being a legal observer…? (Our misgivings were later confirmed by Liberty’s subsequent report on the demo –which, whilst heaping generous praise on the “very pleasant and smiling” police (aww…) makes the embarrassing admission that they failed to witness a single arrest. Observer fail.)

Spreading the boards
So, Saturday seemed like the perfect opportunity to road-test our lovely new billboard bust-cards. With printing services and a paste mixture (patent pending) both supplied by a charming, billboard-seasoned friend, we were well on our way.

With some extra help from some of the lovely folk from the Really Free School, we’d pasted the posters onto their cardboard backing by midnight. All that remained was for us venture out, melting into the melee that is Friday night in Leicester Square, to cable-tie the boards to suitable street furniture.

First stop: Southampton Row, where the London University feeder march would pass on its way from Bloomsbury towards The Strand. Under the meerkat-like watch of wary agents, one board was tied to the gates at the entrance to the old tramway tunnel, whilst a new-found friend from the Free School – apparently with a prehensile tail – scaled about 20 feet of lamppost to advise 1’000s of passersby to go ‘No comment’ if arrested.

Back at the Free School, it was time to embark upon our second outing. Now at 3am, and with our numbers dwindling, we were slowly descending into a stupor of numb drowsiness. In the nick of time, a brisk dry-humping brought one our sleepier agents back to his senses, and we were off again into the night air. After cheery farewells of solidarity to RFS-ers, we made our way down to Embankment. An attempt to climb a lamppost on Embankment was aborted after a nosy police van took an undue interest in our activities. Undeterred, we walked over the footbridge, and left drop-off number three in full view of the main march that would pass below the following day.

Our final call was at Westminster Bridge. A magnificent three-way scramble (not between Bob, Sharmi and Brendan) saw the banner hoisted triumphantly up a lamppost – just as two unsuspecting PCSOs obliged us by passing by to have their photos taken in the shadow of our work.

You haven’t seen the last of billboard bustcards. Watch the streets for more hijacked legal support coming your way soon…

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