Alfie Meadows: police officer cleared of causing brain injury at student protest

Damien Gayle and Aamna Mohdin
Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

A police officer has been cleared of using unreasonable force in an incident during the 2010 university tuition fees protests that left a 20-year-old student needing emergency brain surgery.

Alfie Meadows, then a philosophy student at Middlesex University, suffered a brain injury after he was struck in the head with a police baton during the protests nine years ago against the tripling of university tuition fees.

Det Con Mark Alston, of the City of London police, had faced a misconduct hearing for allegedly using unreasonable force against Meadows, who needed more than 100 staples in his head and was left with a large scar.

He also faced an allegation that he had used his baton “in a violent, uncontrolled and dangerous manner to deliver a number of downward strikes at head height towards a group of demonstrators”.

On Thursday afternoon a panel cleared the officer on both counts. Explaining the decision, the panel said it had concluded that the person who had struck Meadows was actually an unidentified Metropolitan police officer.

Alfie Meadows (pictured in 2012) needed more than 100 staples in his head after being struck by a baton at the protest. Photograph: Steve Bell/Rex/Shutterstock

This unidentified officer was seen alongside Alston in footage of the incident, where both are struggling with protesters who try to push against them with metal fencing.

The panel relied on a frame-by-frame analysis of the footage to conclude that it was this officer who in fact struck Meadows, in a moment partially obscured by the camera of a television journalist, while in “closer proximity to PC Alston’s baton is a person wearing a white/light coloured coat – whom PC Alston said he struck”.

“We find therefore that Mr Meadows was struck from a police baton to the head but that strike was performed by an unidentified Met police officer,” the panel said in its decision. “It is not for us to consider whether that officer was justified in his actions and we say nothing more about it.”

The panel also relied on video evidence to come to a decision on the second allegation. They said the footage “viewed in real time” showed there was “insufficient time between each strike for PC Alston to have been able carefully to consider what each strike had achieved before deciding what the next one was to achieve”.

But they added that as he swung his baton towards students, “he also brings it in closer to his body … lowers his body, thus reducing his height and drops his right shoulder,” with the result that when it moves out of sight it appears to be below head height.

“We accept, therefore, that PC Alston used his baton to deliver these four strikes but not that this use of force was unreasonable.”

In its decision, the panel cited evidence from senior police officers who said the protest had been “one of the most difficult public order incidents in which they had been involved”.

“It represented a multidimensional threat which they had never seen before and have not seen since.”

As a result of that assessment, the panel said they had difficulty accepting portions of Meadows’s testimony after he told them that he had seen no protesters behaving violently towards police during the hours he spent at the protest.

“We struggle to consider how Mr Meadows would not have seen that there was aggression on the part of some protesters,” the panel said. “We must consider the objectivity of his testimony.”

Given that, as well as the near decade that had passed since the incident, the panel said it would approach oral evidence “with caution”.

Speaking after the hearing, Meadows expressed disappointment with the decision. “I feel like my almost decade-long struggle for justice has been at least partially vindicated by the panel accepting that I was almost killed by a police officer’s baton,” he said.

“But they have refused accountability. After almost dying at the hands of police they then tried to criminalise me and then over the course of a decade have tried to delay and deny accountability.”