The riots also offered a glimpse into how photographs can be used out of context:
‘Sir: In last week’s article about the poll-tax riot in Trafalgar Square (‘THE MOB’S BRIEF RULE’, 7 April) there is a large photograph labelled ‘A West End shopper argues with a protester’. The woman in the photograph is me, and I thought you might like to know the true story behind the picture.
I was on my way to the theatre, with my husband. As we walked down Regent Street at about 6.30pm, the windows were intact and there was a large, cheerful, noisy group of poll-tax protesters walking up from Piccadilly Circus. We saw ordinary uniformed police walking alongside, on the pavement, keeping a low profile. The atmosphere was changed dramatically in moments when a fast-walking, threatening group of riot-squad police appeared.
We walked on to the top of Haymarket, where the atmosphere was more tense and more protesters were streaming up Haymarket from the Trafalgar Square end. Suddenly a group of mounted police charged at full gallop into the rear of the group of protesters, scattering them, passers-by and us and creating panic. People screamed and some fell. Next to me and my husband another group of riot-squad appeared, in a most intimidating manner.
The next thing that happened is what horrified me most. Four of the riot-squad police grabbed a young girl of 18 or 19 for no reason and forced her in a brutal manner on to the crowd-control railings, with her throat across the top of the railings. Her young male companion was frantically trying to reach her and was being held back by one riot-squad policeman. In your photograph I was urging the boy to calm down or he might be arrested; he was telling me that the person being held down across the railings was his girlfriend.
My husband remonstrated with the riot-squad policeman holding the boy, and I shouted at the four riot-squad men to let the girl go as they were obviously hurting her. To my surprise, they did let her go – it was almost as if they did not know what they were doing.
The riot-squad policemen involved in this incident were not wearing any form of identification. Their epaulettes were unbuttoned and flapping loose; I lifted them on two men and neither had any numbers on. There was a sergeant with them, who was numbered and my husband asked why his men wore no identifying numbers. The sergeant replied that it did not matter as he knew who the men were. We are a middle-aged suburban couple who now feel more intimidated by the Metropolitan police than by a mob. If we feel so angry, how on earth did the young hot-heads at the rally feel?’
Mrs R.A. Sare, Northwood, Middlessex Source