Police in London have raided the premises of the Antepavilion, a site at Columbia and Brunswick Wharf in East London where experimental structures are erected on a yearly basis, and made several arrests.
The competition for the 2021 Antepavilion saw two winners announced: Studio Nima Sardar and Project Bunny Rabbit, the latter office a design and build collective born from the environmental campaign group, Extinction Rebellion (XR). Work on Project Bunny Rabbit’s project, titled All Along the Watchtower, was six months in and the bamboo tensegrity structure occupied space on the same roof where a previous Antepavilion structure from Maich Swift once stood.
However, according to the Metropolitan Police, therein lies the issue. Police feared the structure was going to be used as part of an XR protest on Sunday regarding press freedom. In September last year, 77 people were charged as XR protested outside printing presses owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s News UK to highlight his publications’ failings to report on the climate crisis. Campaigners blocked roads to the Broxbourne site in Hertfordshire using three-story-tall bamboo and steel cable towers, a remarkable piece of engineering that allowed protesters to attach themselves to it in peaceful protest out of reach from the police.
On Friday morning, Morgan Trowland, a civil engineer who is part of Project Bunny Rabbit and XR, was arrested nearby Broxbourne after his van was stopped for having horse manure in it. According to Paul Stephens, a former Met detective of 30 years who is now a police liaison for XR, Trowland was arrested for conspiracy to cause a public nuisance. The police then used section 18 of the police and criminal evidence act 1984 to search any premises he has had residence or occupation in or of, or has control over.
On Friday afternoon, five police vans arrived on the canal and made three arrests, detaining Russell Gray, the director of Shiva Ltd, which owns the warehouse premises where Antepavilion structures are erected. Gray’s son and a tenant of the building were also arrested. Police reportedly smashed in doors and took equipment, bizarrely even taking a pink bathtub.
A statement from XR read: “As far as we are aware, those arrested [at the wharf] have no connection to the protest last September or to Extinction Rebellion.”
“[The police are] assuming the structure on the roof is going to cause a public nuisance in the future,” Stephens told AN. “They’re also assuming people in the building are involved with it. Simply to arrest someone for having bamboo on the roof is absurd.”
Why are @metpoliceuk concerned by an art installation @antepavilion? Under what powers are they arresting employees of an art space with no connection to xr? This is a vast overreach of police powers, and suppression of freedom of expression. #Art #Arrests
A thread 1/5 pic.twitter.com/K6gPHLNm4r
— Extinction Rebellion UK 🌍 (@XRebellionUK) June 25, 2021
Police also raided XR warehouses in Clapton, East London, arresting four people who, according to Stephens, were simply painting banners for another peaceful protest on Sunday as XR planned to march from Parliament Square to the News Corp headquarters by London Bridge.
“By smashing in the doors of the Antepavilion and seizing a sculptural art installation the police have completely lost touch with the law,” Trowland told AN. “This is intimidation, plain and simple, with no sense behind it whatsoever. Wave a piece of bamboo in front of them and they charge like a bull, all smashing and no thinking. This is what you get when you dare to protest a corrupt, billionaire owned press who withholds the truth about the climate crisis and profits from division.”
The raid by police also comes after (but is not connected to) Hackney Council’s legal dispute with the Antepavilion charity. A forthcoming public inquiry will determine the planning status of the wharf site and the future of the annual Antepavilion competition.
Stephens told AN that the police had applied for a warrant to take the structure down; as of Sunday it was still standing. All those arrested have been released.
Chief Inspector Joe Stokoe, from the Met police’s public order command, told The Guardian: “We believe certain protest groups are specifically intending to disrupt some business locations or potentially cause criminal damage to property. If this happens, we will take further action as required to prevent offences being committed or deal with anyone committing criminal acts. Today [Sunday], we took proactive action to prevent and reduce the likelihood of criminal activity during the course of the weekend. This action should further demonstrate our commitment and proactivity to preventing criminality.”