By Mark Steel
The police like to set their public relations department a special Christmas challenge, don’t they? Because that’s the only explanation for them being filmed on the anti-fees demonstration, chucking a disabled man out of his wheelchair and shoving him along the road, unless it was to enjoy telling their PR team, “Stick a positive spin on that for us, could you?”
Ben Brown of the BBC tried his best, when he interviewed Jody McIntyre, the man who was dislodged, and said aggressively: “There’s a suggestion that you were rolling in the direction of the police.” Now, let’s suppose this was the case (which I can’t help but doubt), how much force is needed, I wonder, to stop a man with cerebral palsy who keeps rolling, even when asked to stop?
Presumably the police turned to each other in shock, spluttering: “Oh my God, he’s rolling straight for us. These riot shields and helmets with visors offer woefully inadequate protection against such a persistent rolling machine. If we’re lucky our batons can buy us some time, but his momentum is terrifying, it’s like a cerebral palsy tsunami.”
Maybe this is how to win in Afghanistan. We recruit a multiple sclerosis battalion to roll mercilessly through Helmand province and the Taliban will run away shrieking in fear.
Even as they showed the film on the news, Ben Brown said it “appeared to show Mr Mcintyre being pulled from his wheelchair”, with a lingering ambiguous “appeared”, as if he was going to add: “but it turned out to be a stunt staged by Derren Brown. We were misled by the power of suggestion, and when you look more closely you can see it’s a butterfly landing on a petal.”
This process started on the day of the demonstration, when live footage of mounted police charging into the crowd and swinging batons was accompanied by a reporter saying: “It looks as if the crowd are getting restless.” This is a common disorder among news reporters, which ought to have a name such as “Confused Baton Charge Back-to-Front Bashed and Basher Syndrome”. Sufferers would make novel boxing commentators, saying: “Audley Harrison is lashing out with tremendous aggression there as he stares with a blank, concussed expression into the paramedic’s torch.”
They might also consider Alfie Meadows, who was so restless he ended up in hospital in a critical condition, having a brain operation after being whacked with a police truncheon. It has also emerged that, when he arrived there, the police insisted he should be taken somewhere else as that hospital was to be used only by their officers. So there seems to be a misunderstanding of how hospitals work, with the Metropolitan Police under the impression they have the same system as restaurants. So you arrive unconscious, then a porter says, “Do you have a reservation?” But if it’s busy you get told, “I’m sorry sir, we’re fully booked this evening. The police have taken all three wards I’m afraid, but if you survive the night you’re welcome to see if we’ve a brain surgeon available tomorrow.”
And yet most coverage of the demonstration has surrounded the violence of the students. Maybe this is because most reporters and politicians believe with such fervour the police are innately honourable, and demonstrators are troublesome, they can’t help but see such a one-sided view. But imagine the uproar if a policeman had needed a brain operation after being hit by a student, or if students announced that following recent events they were investigating getting a water cannon, or that a reporter might angrily ask Camilla, “But there’s been a suggestion you were rolling towards the demonstrators.”
Or maybe the incident with Jody McIntyre is nothing to do with students, and this is the new test for anyone on disability benefit. The police sling you on the floor, poke you about a bit, and if you manage to roll anywhere, there is clearly nothing wrong with you and you get your payments cut.