Bait Or Balls Up?
Tom Rayner November 26, 2010 6:30 PM
Take a look at the video below. These shots were captured at the student demonstration in Whitehall on Wednesday.
It shows the police van, which would become the target of vandals, shortly after it had parked up. The shots were filmed by a Sky News cameraman at 12:48pm - 12 minutes before the decision to contain thousands of protesters.
Does it portray a tense, volatile situation, in which police officers are in a vulnerable position?
This is an important question. On the day of the protests, the Met released a statement saying the carrier had been left because "officers felt vulnerable and decided the best course of action was to leave the van", yet the first obvious acts of vandalism towards the van did not occur until just after 1:05pm.
The pictures seem to show that the scene at 12:48pm was not obviously threatening. Indeed a group of Territorial Support Group officers can be seen first looking at the carrier and then walking past it. They are attracting little attention from the crowds.
So why did they leave it there? From 12:58pm protesters are picked up on the microphones of Sky News cameras asking 'why has that van been left there?'.
As the day progressed, and the vehicle was vandalised, there were some in the crowd claiming it had been left intentionally as 'bait' to provoke criminal damage and justify the use of containment tactics.
That theory has now become the focus of internet debate - search for 'bait van' and you'll have no problem finding a number of differing explanations, some pointing to a basic operational balls-up, others arguing it was a fully developed conspiracy.
The Met dismiss this speculation out of hand.
It's fair to say, most of the so-called evidence wheeled out by the conspiracy theorists does not stand-up.
The vehicle's markings were not 'out-of-date', the license plates were on the vehicle until they were ripped off, and the rust on the back windows indicates nothing other than it was one of the older vehicles in the Met's fleet of carriers.
There is however a legitimate question of why the vehicle was not moved when, as our video seems to suggest, there was an opportunity to do so.
We've put that question to the Met and we're now awaiting a response.
The explanation is likely to be fairly straightforward. The officers in our shots may have been focused on another aspect of the operation, the scene may have been more volatile when the van was forced to stop, the officers seen in the shots may have been ordered to join their colleagues in the police lines, maybe they simply didn't have the keys?
Whatever the explanation, the idea that officers were forced to abandon the vehicle because they were in a vulnerable position doesn't quite fit with the footage.
Maybe you saw what happened? If you have any footage of the police van in question arriving, or the officers leaving it, send it in to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom Rayner is Home Affairs Producer for Sky News