Protest on Trial: Day 6

May 10

Senior Sergeant Falconer continued his testimony under cross examination. He testified that there were three meetings between Victoria Police and management of QV and Melbourne Central shopping centres, leading up to the July 1 protest last year.

It was suggested to Senior Sergeant Falconer that the message from shopping centre management to the police was very much that the protests were unwelcome, and that they had asked the police when is it going to end. Falconer relpied that it was quite clear that protests were going to happen, but “peaceful protest where business wasn’t affected” were the only acceptable protests.

Shopping centre management had been told by Victoria Police that the police could only take action if the protestors were committing a criminal offence, according to Mr Falconer. In response, the shopping centre management had entertained the idea of bringing civil proceedings against protest leaders, but after legal advice had decided against this course.

In the meetings there had been general discussion about a time frame, with 20 minutes being raised by shopping centre management as an acceptable time for any protest. However, Mr Falconer testified that there was no decision made about enforcing such a time limit.

As a result of discussions about the demonstrations, police had sought advice from the Victorian Government Solicitor’s Office about the charges of trespass and besetting. Mr Falconer had researched the charge of besetting following a meeting on June 2, which had discussed the May 20 BDS rally. According to Mr Falconer’s testimony, the aim of this research was to find “what powers were available to police in arresting people on the 1st of July”, if protestors were to “repeat the behaviour of May 20”.

Mr Falconer testified that, on the night, QV  management would decide on whether and when to ask protestors to leave. Police would then decide whether and in what manner to act on that request.

On the night, arrest details were made up of Public Order Management teams, consisting of officers drawn from different stations. Senior Sergeant Falconer testified that his regular role was in the Liquor Licensing Unit of Victoria Police. The POM teams operated alongside details made up of Public Order Response Team officers.

PORT and POM details made their arrests on July 1 using what Falconer called a wedge formation, made up of teams of between 5 and 8 officers. The leading officer would grab the person targetted for arrest and then hand them to the the two officers behind them, while other officers fended off other protestors if necessary. Falconer has previously testified that, in many years of policing protests in Melbourne, he had never used this tactic to effect arrests before.

Senior Sergeant Falconer testified that, although there were police stationed at the State Library where the rally gathered, and in Melbourne Central, police resources on the night were concentrated at QV shopping centre.

Senior Sergeant Falconer discussed the extensive use of video surveillance of the July 1 rally. Three police in plain clothes had mixed with the crowd, briefed to capture “prominent events” and offences being committed. Falconer testified that the video operators were not given instructions to minimise the time spent filming arrested people being taken down Red Cape Lane and into the QV loading dock. Falconer himself had been on leave following July 1 and had not requested the footage from QV.

Falconer testified that, when he arrived at QV, there was a line of police in front of the Max Brenner store facing QV Square, and a line of protestors with their backs to the police, also facing the square. There was some degree of contact between protestors and police in one area outside Max Brenner. He had not seen how the contact had started, but the police and protestors pushing against each other were “effectively just moving on the spot”. This pushing had stopped before Falconer led his teams out from behind the police line to form a second line facing QV Square.

Just prior to this he had been tasked by Inspector Mick Beattie with engaging Vashti Kenway and asking for the protest to end. QV management had decided to ask the protestors to leave, and Inspector Beattie had informed Falconer that a demand to leave had been made. Asked whether he believed a “beset” was taking place when he walked out to engage with Ms Kenway, Senior Sergeant Falconer replied “yes”.

The police had previously made a decision that, were arrests to be made, “we would arrest the people we believed were the leaders of the protest.” These people were identified on a list including photographs prior to the protest. Approximately half of these people had been arrested on the night of July 1.

Falconer gave detailed testimony regarding the sequence of events including the arrests of Vashti Kenway and Omar Hassan. Going through the CCTV footage supplied by QV, Falconer agreed that Omar Hassan was standing being held by two police officers when he was struck by another police officer who had not been involved in the arrest. Mr Hassan is subsequently seen being helped to his feet from the floor.

The POM teams had been briefed by Senior Sergeant Falconer prior to the demonstration. The PORT teams had been separately briefed the day prior, while the general duties police were also given a separate briefing. The POM briefing had been videotaped, the first time in Falconer’s experience that this had happened.

A section of Falconer’s closing remarks to the POM teams was read out:

“It’s a pretty important event tonight in that we haven’t had besetting for ten years… It is an illegal action that they are doing. They rely on the principle of ‘you can’t touch the protestor’ and they have a chant: ‘this is not a police state, you have the right to demonstrate’, which is right but not when it is on private property and you have been asked to leave.”

Mr Falconer mentioned a rally held at the Maribyrnong Detention Centre a couple of weeks prior to July 1, where a number of protestors had marched into a nearby shopping mall. He told the briefing: “The decision has been made, force command have committed 160 police. Something needs to be done – they need to learn whats legal and whats not legal.”

When questioned about this statement, Falconer testified that police could facilitate a rally at the State Library, Swanston Street or Spring Street, or if the protestors had stood at the State Library handing out leaflets. However the protests had escalated well beyond this.

Falconer testified that he made these remarks because he wanted his team “to see the bigger picture of what’s going on”. When it was suggested that the bigger picture is that we live in a democracy where unelected officials such as Victoria Police have no power to dictate where and when protests occcur, he agreed but added that private property owners had a right to tell people they were not welcome to protest.

Mr Falconer was questioned on notes he had made in meetings leading up to the July 1 rally.  One note read “times of demo/ acceptable behaviour next week. View to allowing brief demo, but then if possible moving on.” Another read: “Indication of time frame for the night – when we can ask them to move on”.

Falconer agreed there had been a general discussion along these lines, and the figure of twenty minutes for a protest had been raised but not agreed on. However he agreed that, on the night, exactly 20 minutes passed between the protestors arriving in QV square, and QV management instructing them to leave. He agreed that it was not up to police to put a time frame on protest, but thought a property owner could impose such a limit.

Another note read GA (referring to Gordon Allen of Melbourne Central management): “GA ask about taking away presence to allow them to beset”. However Mr Falconer denied there had been any deliberate strategy of allowing the protestors to beset premises at either Melbourne Central or QV.

Senior Sergeant Falconer discussed the arrest of Sue Bolton following a speech she had made. According to Falconer, Ms Bolton had said “words to the effect of we should stay [in QV] for the Palestinians”. When played video of the speech, Falconer agreed that she had made no such statement. Ms Bolton’s speech pointed out there were over 100 police for a fairly small protest, and questioned “what sort of clout has Max Brenner got, a company that supports Israeli apartheid”.

Falconer agreed that the speech was not inflammatory and was simply a political speech, similar to an old style town square speech. He then added: “However, the town square would not have been private property”.

Discussing other speeches made on the night, Mr Falconer said he believed a speech saying “Israel’s days are numbered” might fall foul of racial vilification laws, but agreed Sue Bolton and others charged had made no such remarks.

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