City Councillors Protest Publication of Police Strawberry Fair Video

Police Video - 2009 Strawberry Fair

Did Councillors Gag the Local Paper?

Update to article 17.00 5 March 2010
The Cambridge News published a video of the 2009 Strawberry Fair which had been presented by the police to a council licensing committee meeting on the 1st of March. Councillors objected to the publication of the video saying that it should not be made available unless it is presented, as it was at the licensing committee, alongside councillors’ questions regarding its bias. At the time of writing the video is no longer available on the Cambridge News website. I am concerned our local councillors have gagged our local paper.

I think it is right that the video ought remain accessible to the public. I have therefore uploaded a copy to “Liveleak” and am making it available via this article.

Discussing the Video at the North Area Committee

Original Article Continues:
During the Open Forum section of the North Area Committee on Thursday the 4th of March a member of the public asked the police if they thought they’d done the right thing by releasing the video of Strawberry Fair which they had produced to show the City Council licensing committee. At the licensing hearing the police used their video to support their argument that the council ought not licence Strawberry Fair this year. However after hearing a variety of differing views councillors decided to approve the application. Sergeant Wragg, who was speaking on behalf of the police at the North Area Committee, initially just ignored the question but when I pressed him to address it he handed over to Inspector Kerridge for him to respond. The inspector told the meeting he was aware councillors and others had raised concerns about the fact the police video had been released to the Cambridge News. Inspector Kerridge said he was unable to make any comment and suggested those with views on the release ought address them to the officer responsible for the video, he told the meeting this officer was: “Divisional Commander Mr Needle at Parkside Police Station”.

I found the orange epauletted intelligence gathering police an oppressive presence at the 2009 Strawberry Fair

I found the orange epauletted intelligence gathering police an oppressive presence at the 2009 Strawberry Fair

The Leader of the Council, Ian Nimmo-Smith, spoke to say there was: “an issue of what happened with respect to the release of the DVD which raised some public concerns in relation to data protection and child protection”. Cllr Nimmo-Smith stated his view that presentation of the video as part of a package of evidence presented to a regulatory committee was very different to publishing it in a very public, “Youtube like”, fashion on the Cambridge News website. The council leader told the committee that legal advice he has received states that the use of the video is important and using it in the committee proceedings “did not amount to publication” and “did not validate any other public use”. While the Cambridge News have said the police force released the footage to them Cllr Nimmo-Smith was not clear on this point, he appeared to me to suggest the possibility a council officer had released it. If the police have released it I can’t really imagine why the council would be taking legal advice.

Cllr Mike Pitt, one of Ian Nimmo-Smith’s Liberal Democrat party colleagues, attempted to pin his leader down as to what he meant; but no further clarification of the council leader’s position was forthcoming. Cllr Nimmo-Smith argued that when the video was presented at the licensing committee councillors had been able to question its content and the way it had been edited; Nimmo-Smith claimed that outside of that context, making the video available is inappropriate.

Cllr Rupert Moss-Eccardt, a Liberal Democrat who represents Arbury on the County Council, said that the legal principle behind the difference between the online publication and presentation to the committee had its roots in the 1848 Marriage Act, he said that if you phone the registrar and ask when someone is getting married they won’t tell you but let you know you can visit the registry office and read it on a notice board. Cllr Moss-Eccardt said that in his view: “Whoever gave the DVD to the Evening News has broken the law”. By “the law” I presume he means the Data Protection Act rather than the Marriage Act.

Liberal Democrat County Councillor Kevin Wilkins, the only elected representative from Cambridge who sits on the Police Authority and in that role oversees Cambridgeshire Police, is a member of the North Area Committee but was absent from the meeting.

My View on the Video Release

Child Protection

These three kids looked as if they were having fun at the fair.

These three kids looked as if they were having fun at the fair.

The public questioner at the North Area committee framed her question citing “pedophiles” and the fact children featured in the video. I think this is utterly ridiculous. Many people will have photographs and video of the fair which include children; it’s an event which attracts people of all ages. The apparent purpose of the police showing children in their video is to show the proximity of children to drug taking. I don’t think that “child protection” is a particularly relevant point. Anyone can take photographs and videos in public places; any footage of Strawberry Fair early in the day will most probably include children.

Openness and Transparency in Council Decisions

As the video has been part of a formal submission by the police to councillors it is absolutely right that it has been released into the public domain. I would like to see all such materials tabled at meetings, be they videos, powerpoint presentations, photographs or papers published along with the meeting’s minutes, I’ve had some success in persuading the city council to be more open with such documents. I think the Cambridge News ought be congratulated on bringing what was presented in the council’s licensing committee out to the public. Councillors don’t make getting information out of their meetings easy, they don’t allow recording (sound or video) of their meetings and appear very reluctant to make it easy to access what they do. I find it astonishing and indefensible that council doesn’t issue decision notices (or press releases announcing decisions) even when matters are of significant public interest such as the decision on the Strawberry Fair licence. Without members of the press and public at these meetings (hampered as they are in their efforts by councillors) the public wouldn’t know what their representatives were up to.

The councillors’ argument that the video should not have been released out of context is nonsense; it is clearly a police video, and to be fair to the police does so some extent portray both positive and negative aspects of the event. Residents of Cambridge don’t need councillor’s commentary to warn them that a video complied by the police might have been edited to, overall, show a particular point of view.

I am surprised that councillors did not focus on video elements which appear to me to possibly be from City Council CCTV on the common; the council policy is, quite rightly in my view, to tightly restrict how images taken by its CCTV system are used. One lamp post mounted camera is now permanently mounted on Midsummer Common, what happens to footage from that camera is something councillors have direct control over. If the police have published video from city council cameras, in breech of an agreement with the council, then that’s something which does warrant following up by councillors. If their complaint was about the police releasing those elements to the press then I would understand their point, but this was not said by the council leader at the North Area Committee. I suspect that the police were quite open about the fact they were videoing people; the council’s CCTV on the common however is poorly signed and hidden up a pole and doesn’t look like a CCTV camera; releasing photos from that does appear wrong to me. That’s where I think there is a reasonable argument – for saying the police were wrong to use footage in the way they have – but once they’ve presented it, in public, to councillors it is right to make it widely available.

My Views on Strawberry Fair

A girl with a chicken's head at the 2009 Strawberry Fair.

A girl with a chicken’s head at the 2009 Strawberry Fair.

I think illegal drug dealing is always unacceptable; and it is wrong that it appears that for the day of the Strawberry Fair drug dealing takes place on and around the fair site in a blatant and open fashion and isn’t effectively tackled by the police. I hope that all those shown in the video dealing or using drugs were dealt with by the police, but I’ve not seen much evidence of that happening myself when I’ve been at the event, though the 2009 fair appeared to me to have less open drug use and dealing than in 2008. We shouldn’t allow the city to become lawless for a day.

I think there has been a problem with oppressive and inappropriate policing of Strawberry Fair, though in 2009 it was much better than 2008. I have felt the presence of of the police helicopter overhead all day and the orange epauletted intelligence gathering team police officers wielding video cameras to be overbearing and damaging to the atmosphere, yet ineffective.

Another aspect of the police relationship to the Strawberry Fair which watching is charges the police make to organisers of events for policing them. I don’t think it is appropriate to treat a free, open event like Strawberry Fair as football matches are; this is another route through which the police could seek to make it difficult for the fair to go ahead.

In terms of the event as a whole, there were massive improvements last year, what was done then needs to be repeated and improved upon year on year until the negative impacts on the city and local residents are genuinely minimised.

I hope the police’s caution (and I hope it is caution and not outright opposition) at this stage is aimed at ensuring that the council, organisers and others work with them to make sure the event is held peacefully and without serious incident this year. This is something which isn’t down to the police alone; if they feel they need to use the council’s licensing process to make sure the necessary co-operation is in place that’s not a bad thing.

I think we need better, more appropriate and less oppressive policing of the fair. I’d suggest getting rid of the intelligence collecting teams with video cameras, not keeping the helicopter overhead all day (unless there’s a specific reason it’s needed) and having well briefed, preferably local, police patrolling on the site and well into the surrounding areas – including the route between the station and the common – well into the evening.

The underlying nature of the event needs to keep changing for the better – I think it would be fantastic if the council, residents, organisers, schools, local organisations – anyone who’s interested could get together and help steer the event back towards a local community focus.

Midsummer Fair

I find the Midsummer Fair has a much more negative effect on the city, and Midsummer Common, than Strawberry Fair. From my point of view as someone who regularly walks and cycles across the common I have felt much more threatened while the Midsummer Fair is on than I have done when walking through the Strawberry Fair site – which I’ve done at all times of the day. With respect to the Midsummer Fair for the last two years before the event I have calling for the increase in police presence to coincide with when people start arriving on site.

See Also

35 responses to “City Councillors Protest Publication of Police Strawberry Fair Video”

  1. We’ve been to Strawberry Fair with our daughters(now aged 8 and 5) for the last few years, and we’ve found it very enjoyable, with plenty of activities for the children, many of them free. However I do think the atmosphere tends to deteriorate as the day wears on, as the number of drunk (or otherwise intoxicated) people increases – it’s a much more child-friendly place to be at noon than it is at 4 or 5pm. Also the toilet situation (always a vital consideration for parents) is often getting pretty grim by then. I’m glad to hear that the Fair organisers are trying to improve this aspect.

    I don’t really have a problem with the epaulette colour of the police officers (so long as their numbers are visible), but I agree that the use of the helicopter often seems excessive. I think the police would do well to provide more information about what the helicopter is used for, as some other forces do.

  2. As far as numbers being visible goes, are they really visible if they’re displayed in a way that breaks the rule of tincture, meaning that they’re impossible to read? I certainly can’t make them out in the first photo Richard’s posted here – and think that if they were properly contrasted, the colour wouldn’t matter.

    I terms of the fair, it’s a vicious circle, isn’t it – bad behaviour > over policing > worse behavious in response…

  3. On Police helicopter usage I have regularly asked (1,2) for a “heli-log” along the lines other forces have.

    As for the orange epaulettes; it is not the colour I object to, but what that colour means and is intended to represent. The most visible police at the event were exclusively, as far as I could see, collecting information and video on what people were doing.

    The orange epaulettes, and “Evidence Gathering Team” badges, and the video cameras they were pointing at everyone appear designed to intimidate and oppress. Some individual officers involved in this activity appeared embarrassed to have been deployed so inappropriately. Fair goers were asking them what they were doing every couple of minutes. It is this overbearing intrusion; which has been compounded by the subsequent publication of the video, which I think is causing people to complain.

  4. I’m a bit confused as to what your position is. On the one hand you say that the publication of the video has compounded the “overbearing intrusion” of the evidence gathering team; on the other hand you say that it is “absolutely right that it has been released into the public domain”. Surely you can’t believe both these things simultaneously?

  5. The CEN link is broken “There is currently no data in this article, please check back later.”

    With regard to the police helicopter, I think there is a major concern for their use at large public events – the result of an engine failure would lead to a very large loss of life.

    When I complained to the police about their use, I was told they are used as communication points due to the ineffectiveness of the Tetra radio system.

    I agree with the previous commentor about the fair gradually degrading as the day wears on. Perhaps it should return to its roots and become local with no amplified music!

  6. I am aware the council have been putting pressure on the Cambridge News to remove the video from their site. It appears they have now succumbed to that pressure (though it could be a technical glitch). The link is correct, and is as was tweeted to announce the article.

    Who’s going to report on that – if our local councillors have gagged the local paper!

    My position makes on the video makes sense to me:

    1. Once the police used this video in their submission to the licensing committee it became a key document which it is in the public interest to have in the public domain. It is essential to the understanding of the debate and for those wishing to assess the councillor’s performance – something we all have to be mindful of now as it comes up to election time when we’ll be asked if we think they’re doing a good job or not.

    2. While I think that now the police have produced and used this video in this way it is right for it to be made available to the public, there are elements of the way in which the footage shown appears to have been collected which I disagree with and think was inappropriate.

  7. I have confirmed the Cambridge News link in the article is correct. It appears they have silently removed their copy of the video, along with all the comments their readers had made on it.

    Embedding does not appear to be working yet (perhaps it needs moderation by LiveLeak?)
    The video be viewed via:

  8. Did the city council get the video banned, maybe they objected to the publication of the video but so did many private individuals who are portrayed in the video of which i am one. I’m all for criticising the council for being secretive but in this instance they weren’t the only ones trying to get the video pulled.



  9. I am well pleased by this fair post. I’m also pleased that Ozzy’s pointed out the difficulty in justifying the ‘councillors gag’ bit. I can’t recall ever winning an argument with the Police, so they must have felt they needed to pull it.


  10. There is a statement on the Strawberry Fair website at:

    Now the fair has been cancelled then the question has to turn to what will happen when people turn up anyway on the day – how will that issue be managed and policed. I think it is crucial the council and police come up with a statement on how they’ll treat people gathering, possibly with drugs and alcohol, on the common on the day – even if there’s no fair.

    Some updates / insights from Thursday’s Friends of Midsummer Common meeting:

    *In previous years the fair has used the council’s licence. This year the council refused to allow the fair to use their existing licence for the common and required the fair to apply for their own. Questions need to be asked about the role of councillors in making this decision. Councillors are responsible and ought to have had a grip on what was happening. It’s not good enough for councillors like Julie Smith to say officers took the decision – she and her fellow elected representatives are responsible.

    *Mr Wilson said it was expected that the magistrates might not have determined the licensing appeal to one week before the event. (Though documents I have seen suggest the appeal would have been scheduled urgently). The statement from Strawberry Fair cites the timing of the appeal as part of their reason for cancelling the event.

    *Council officer Alistair Wilson and Executive Councillor Julie Smith couldn’t agree if the council had given permission for the common to be used for the event. Julie Smith said it had, Mr Wilson said no request had been received.

    *So far this year there had been no “stakeholder meetings” between the fair and local residents and the Friends of Midsummer Common as there had been last year.

    I think the police ought to have policed this event; and not sought to stop it. I think the police authority ought review the police’s actions and the way they’ve acted towards the fair.

  11. I am very worried that the cancellation of the Fair will be an invitation to some of the regular visitors from outside the City to create their own “event”, possibly seeking confrontation with the Police, who are clearly the ones to blame for the situation (although I doubt that councillors and officers are entirely innocent – after all this is the team that gave us the missing Folk Festival money). I doubt the Police will be able to have simply their usual resources available on 6 June, so there will be the expense of preparing to police something that may not happen, without any of the genuine enjoyment that large numbers of people get from the Fair. Worst of all possible worlds, sort of thing.

  12. David – I think you – and many others – are missing the point by blaming the police. The council possesses a license for Midsummer Common. For the first time in forty years they didn’t allow SF to use it. SF had to apply for a license (and unsurprisingly the police objected, as they no doubt would if I – or you – tried to hold such a large and messy event). The blame lies squarely with the councillors who created this situation (and then tried to confuse, successfully it would seem, the issue by voting for the new license). The police may not be democratically accountable but the councillors on the license committee are (I wonder how many of them seek re-election this year?). I see Jenny Liddle has said how disappointed she is – maybe she should use the license which she possesses and save the day (or perhaps living 20 miles away she doesn’t really care)

  13. On the Cambridge News website today Chief Superintendent Rob Needle of Cambs police is quoted as saying “we are not against the event in principle, and never have been.”

    If that is the case then why didn’t they work with the organisers rather than trying to sabotage Strawberry Fair with their drug arrests PR exercises, their ridiculous demands for payment, and now by opposing the licence needed to hold the event.

    What concerns me most about this, even more than losing Strawberry Fair for a year, is the way that the police are taking an increasingly political role in Cambridge (and presumably elsewhere).

    It is a well-funded police legal team that was largely responsible for preventing a new pub opening at Cambridge Leisure, for stopping Tesco getting an alcohol licence in their Mill Road store, and now for cancelling Strawberry Fair.

    Whatever people believe about the rights and wrongs of each of these three examples, what they have in common is that the police have managed to prevent lawful activity that was desired by a significant proportion of the local community – because they think it will make their jobs harder.

    Imagine what would happen if they took the same approach with football, and tried to get the troublesome matches banned. No crime, but no fun for the law-abiding majority either.

  14. David, fair point. The police’s actions are worrying, but Cambridge City Council is one of the few bodies capable of overruling the police (or more simply – in this case – circumventing them entirely) and they chose not to. Tescos and Wetherspoons have to work within police/council guidelines. The council SETS those guidelines. To equate the cases is misguided and wrong. This is a political decision, pure and simple, which councillors have successfully pinned on a hapless and lazy police force.

  15. I think the comparison with the licences at the Cattle Market and Mill Rd is inaccurate. What prevented those going ahead was the Council’s decision on impact zones and the Council’s initial rejection of the applications. The point about refusing to use the Council’s own licence for SF is well taken but it was clearly done in ignorance of the possible impact rather than as an attempt to sabotage the event. The Police, on the other hand, were clearly seeking impossible conditions, and have probably created a messy confrontation at a time when the fair organisers were more willing to work to change the event than for a number of years.

  16. If, as you say, Julie Smith’s decision not to allow Strawberry Fair to use the council’s license was done out of ignorance (rather than an act of political will), it rather begs questions of her competence in office. Given the folk festival fiasco (another big Cambridge event recently mis-managed and blamed on officials and outside forces) I would have thought that executive councillors might be expected to be on top of the job. This being the city council I assume a resignation is out of the question…

  17. My understanding is that the police were threatening to review the council licence for all events on the common. That would go towards explaining the council decision to drop strawberry fair from that agreement

  18. Questions need to be asked at the community services scrutiny committee on Wednesday to find out what the council did and why; and to find out if the Executive councillor was in control.

  19. it wouldn’t surprise me if the police came for the mill road winter fair next, they can’t touch the midsummer fair because of it’s royal charter. In the future if i were the police i’d probably ask that all local derby football matches be held at neutral locations away from major population centers. I suspect they’ll ask that all nightclubs finish at 10pm and that a cufew is in place after midnight, it would certainly make cambridge easier to police, and seeing as how rob needle who is clearly to the right of gengis khan and is now the politician in charge of licensing, i guess this is what we have to look forward to. When are the elected councillors of the police authority going to take this rogue commander to task???

  20. Richard – the Executive councillor is always in control. It’s part of the job. The moment he/she loses control he/she must resign. It’s called democratic accountability (it’s also what we pay politicans for).

  21. rn, by your standards Cllr Julie Smith ought to have resigned a few times since she became the Executive Councillor.

  22. Hmmm, I don’t know enough about other cases. Once would be sufficient (only if the case were proved – though I doubt we’ve got another Crichel Down on our hands). Is it any wonder politicians (with honourable exceptions) are held in such contempt?

  23. Cllr Smith, and others, are quite open about the fact they struggle to stay in charge; a clear example was the publication of tree plans which Cllr Smith had not approved:

    More worryingly even a motion passed unanimously by full council is not having the desired effect – that’s a problem both with councillors and the Chief Executive:

  24. Andrew Osborne : I’m not sure you’re analogy is quite correct. The desire to control the masses with an oppressive police state is overwhelmingly an attribute of the socialist left, whether they are National Socialist, Communist, or Korean Worker’s Party. A right wing party would merely auction the rights for SF for a large fee, charge for the use of Midsummer Common – and then sell the TV rights to Simon Cowell…

  25. It’s certainly under the last decade of Labour that we’ve seen a massive increase in police oppression.

    The New Labour law – S.27 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 – gives the police the power to disperse those they think might contribute to alcohol related crime or disorder. Application of that law could be used on the day the fair was to be held.

    No major party is committing to tighten up these dodgy laws which are wide open to abuse. Even the Lib Dems are prepared to support dispersal (and the abuse of antisocial behaviour laws) where they are in power in Cambridge despite nationally being pro-civil liberties.

  26. I don’t recall the troopers who rode down the demonstration at Peterloo as being creatures of the socialist left. Nor, from a more recent era, the policing of the new-age travellers or the miners’ strike. The state is the state and does not tend to give up its power voluntarily. Of course, there is truth in the statement that the right tries to price people out of power (the freedom to do anything provided you can pay for it), and calls this “choice”. Let’s face it, the Police’s main objection to Strawberry Fair and such other events is the cost of them to themselves.

  27. No, but gulags, concentration camps and the general tendency to round people up and kill them have been singularly ruthlessly persued by socialists over the last century. Indeed, using incidents such as Peterloo or the miner’s strike to exemplify intolerence shows just how narrow your perspective is. Combined total casualties of what? 1500 tops (of which very few died). On average, that number were killed every day under Stalin, and with no access to the media to tell their story, either.

    In fact, the genius of Thatcher and Reagan was to understand that there was economic value in giving people freedom, and that this could drive an improvement in the quality of life that the left wing regimes of the day simply could not match.

    No system is perfect, and certainly some prefer the dull (and often painful) certainties of socialism to the bright opportunities of ecomonic lberalism, but overall I am very glad that the West won the cold war, and it doesn’t surprise me in the least that 13 years of Labour has left the country showing a number of symptoms of the sov block that members of this government so worshiped when they were youngsters.

  28. RN wrote : “I would have thought that executive councillors might be expected to be on top of the job.”

    Following a public question I asked at the Community Services Scrutiny Committee officers said that the licence decision was a “delegated” decision and Cllr Smith said:

    “It would be wholly improper of me to exert influence over officers.”

    More on my new article at:

  29. This explains a lot, sadly. Perhaps if officers’ lapses/misjudgements involved things closer to LibDem “themes” than – millions of pounds of taxpayers money, local events affecting thousands or notable Cambridge landscapes – then we could expect some serious oversight. I expect the tofu committee is rigorously policed.

  30. I think the police helicopter is an issue not just at SF but all summer. It seems a fair proportion of the few decent days we get in an English Summer are ruined by the helicopter. This isn’t Hill St Blues. If they can’t control Cambridge without it then the police management ought to give up and let someone competent have a try. How can we go about getting it stopped and use the money for something useful? Julie Spence’s ever present personal PR campaign has been strangely silent on the SF issue. This is the only small mercy we have had.

  31. I have asked about the use of the police helicopter, particularly over North Cambridge.

    I was told:
    1. The helicopter can be called for by all police officers, even the most junior.
    2. For the specific period I asked about there had been a number of very important people, eg. Prince Charles visiting the city. Prince Charles &co. don’t like a police helicopter buzzing them all day, so they circle it over our homes in North Cambridge while they visits the City Centre, West Cambridge etc.

    I have been asking for a “heli-log” along the lines of that produced by other forces; that would give us a starting point to campaign for more reasonable use of the helicopter. In the North of the city last year it was even used to catch a loose dog; though well that sounds trivial and inappropriate we’ve got to be careful not to judge without the full facts. I think the police ought be more open so the public can judge if they are using their resources effectively.

    One of my more recent articles on holding the police to account is available at:

    Something I am concerned about at the moment is the number of high speed crashes at junctions in the city involving the police; there have been a large handful in the last year. A number of times in the last year I have seen instances where the first officers on the scene have got things under control but police vehicles have kept coming for many minutes – speeding and sirens blaring.

  32. Just watched the video and it seems to mainly highlight an objection to 1. people smoking cannabis 2. people peeing and 3. people getting sick after drinking too much alcohol. Am I missing something? What is actually wrong with any these timeless activities? What is the obsession that the police have against cannabis? Did anybody, smoking cannabis ever do any harm? Its a simple case of: no victim = no crime. It seems likely that the police (like every other organisation) is slave to statistics – bosses need to prove their worth by showing a success rate – and catching easy targets (victims of an arbitrary law) with a sniffer dog really helps make good stats. We need a change of culture away from statistically managed policing, and get back to the basics of protecting the victim.

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