Genoa statement

Tue 31 July 2001

This is my statement concerning the events of July 2001, where I was one of 93 people arrested, beaten and tortured following the demonstrations against the G8.

Statement of Daniel McQuillan

I declare that this is a true and honest statement which I have written on Tuesday 31st July 2001.

On 17th July 2001 I travelled with my friend Norman Blair on Ryanair flight FR972 from Stansted to Genoa. I went to Genoa to join protests against the exclusion of ordinary people from the decisions of the G8, which I believe are based on profit and exploitation rather than co-operation and human need.

On Saturday 21st July I witnessed large and peaceful sections of a legal march being gassed and attacked by police. These events contributed to what I and others felt as an atmosphere of fear in the city that evening.

We were staying at the Scolastica A. Diaz, a large empty school building opposite the Genoa Social Forum Media Centre. The school was covered in scaffolding - I assume it was being renovated during the school holidays. It was being used as an annexe for some computer terminals and as an accommodation space, and we’d been told it was a safe place to sleep. On Saturday night there were a lot of mostly young people staying at the school – the ground floor was a colourful patchwork of sleeping bags and camping mats. There was also a quiet but regular stream of people coming in and out to check their emails on the free computer terminals. Norman and I were sharing a first floor room with a man called Sam Buchanan. There were also the belongings of at least two other people in the room but they hadn’t yet returned that evening.

At what I think was about 1am Sunday morning I was awoken by an explosion of noise. Norman looked out of the window and said that police were charging in to the building. From downstairs we could hear glass smashing and people screaming. In fear, we tried to hide our belongings out of sight in the hope that the police wouldn’t realise our room was occupied. As the sounds of the police rampage grew closer we all hid under one of the tables at the back of the room. The police pounded on the door of our room and after a few moments kicked the door open. They advanced in to the room waving a flashlight and their truncheons. We stood up with raised hands, and I was saying “Take it easy, take it easy” to the police. I could only see them in silhouette as they were lit from behind by the corridor lights. About five or six police advanced on us and the leading one struck me a hard blow on the left side of the head with his truncheon. I had a brief ‘white-out’ (loss of vision) and I fell to the floor. Several of the police began raining blows on me and I rolled on to my right side and curled in to a ball. I raised my left arm to my temple for protection just in time to deflect a hard truncheon blow aimed at my head. It was a frenzied attack. I think I was yelling in pain or fear. Eventually they stopped and backed out of the room. The last two paused by the door where there was a stack of wooden door frames, and in a last vindictive gesture they threw some of these on to us.

Other police came in to the room and dragged us to our feet. We were herded down the stairs past yet more officers clad in body armour – I received at least one further blow to the head on the way down the stairs, even though by this time I was bleeding heavily from a head wound. We were brought in to the main downstairs room and made to kneel face down to the floor with our hands stretched out in front of us. I watched blood from my head form a pool in front of me.

After some time we were told to sit back against the walls of the room. It was like a wartime scene or the aftermath of a bomb blast. There was perhaps thirty or forty injured people sitting around the walls, many of them bleeding or obviously injured. A young woman was pulled in to the room by the police – she was dark haired and of slim build, and obviously frightened and confused. Two police were shouting at her in Italian which she didn’t seem to understand, and then one of the police struck her upheld wrist with a forceful blow, and she was pushed, crying, in to a corner. Many of the police were in plain clothes under their body armour and helmets, and could easily have passed for demonstrators – somehow this made them even more frightening. Some were wearing handkerchieves across their faces to mask their identities, and I particularly remember a tanned police officer with a long black pony tail.

I was trying to stem the flow of blood from my head and Norman whispered ‘Oh shit Dan you look bad, are you OK?’ He held on to my free hand and told me not to worry, that whatever happened he wouldn’t leave me, that he would make sure we stayed together. I was wearing shorts and a light short-sleeved shirt, which were both soaked in my blood, and I was starting to shake. Beside us there was a completely unconscious man being tended by his girlfriend, while another woman held his legs up in some sort of recovery position. His body was twitching spasmodically and I was afraid he was going to die.

At the other end of the room the police were searching through a great jumbled pile of people’s belongings. They were ripping open bags and pouches and scattering their contents, leaving clothes and documents everywhere which were then trampled over by other police going in and out of the room. During this time I saw at least one well dressed older man in a suit come in and survey the operation, and converse with two of the truncheon wielding officers before leaving.

At some point a couple of paramedics came in to the room and started to treat the wounds. They were pouring a fizzy liquid on to wounds and applying basic dressings. Then several ambulance staff in orange jumpsuits appeared and began to load people on to stretchers. Both the ambulance staff and the paramedics seemed very agitated. I saw the ambulance staff tear the cardboard backing of some A4 paper pads for use as materials for splints. I was loaded on to a trolley stretcher and wheeled out of the room, accompanied by Norman. Somewhere near the door of the building we were physically blocked by a helmeted officer who had a shouting argument with the ambulance woman pushing the stretcher. She said to me ”Sorry I must give him this” and removed my money pouch, which contained my passport, my credit cards and about £500 cash in Sterling and Italian Lire, as well as my contact lenses, and gave it to the policeman. No-one at any point since then has admitted any knowledge of the whereabouts of this pouch or its contents. In the street outside I can remember lines of police, camera flashes and a furious shouts of ‘assassino!” from the building opposite. I can remember one woman shouting in English “We will not forget this!”

We were taken in an ambulance to the Galliera hospital, which is somewhere in Genoa. I was examined and put in the queue for X-rays along with many others from the school. After the X-rays a plainclothes officer, who said he worked at the hospital, took my name and date of birth. I was told by medical staff that I had a fractured left wrist but no fracture of the skull. My foot had also been badly beaten and I was limping. My arm was put in a cast and my head wound was stitched. The medical staff gave me my X-rays in an envelope and a photocopy of my diagnosis. Because I was also shivering badly they gave me an old sleeping bag to take with me for warmth. The hospital staff were noticeably kinder when there were no police officers present in the room. While I was in the lift going to X-ray one of the nurses said in broken English something like ‘This is not Genoa, we are not doing this’.

A group of about ten of us were removed from the hospital and put under guard in a Carabinieri van. We were taken away in a police convoy, which swept through the deserted red zone. At one point I got a very clear view of the luxury cruise liners in the port which were the accommodation of the G8 delegates. They glittered with bright lights. The convoy seemed to leave the red zone at the west end and soon we were at some sort of police camp at a place I think is called Genoa-Bolzaneto.

At the camp we were made to stand facing a wire fence. A policeman drew crosses on our cheeks with some sort of blue highlighter pen. We were questioned as to name and nationality. All the police were dressed in paramilitary style uniforms. As dawn came we were led in to one building where we had to stand spread-eagled against the wall while we were searched. One policeman gave me a vicious kick in the ankle I was limping on. Our remaining possessions were removed and put in to envelopes – for me, this was only shoelaces. We were led down the corridor with our arms behind our necks, bent nearly double by a policeman pressing on our heads, and pushed in to a holding cell. It was about 20 foot by 20 foot, with a barred door and with a large open mesh window making up about half of the opposite wall.

We were made to stand in the spread-eagle position against the wall – legs apart and hands against the wall above our heads. For me this was very painful because of my damaged wrist. Any signs of arms dropping was met with shouted threats from police officers standing behind us. This went on for a long time. Other groups of paramilitary police gathered outside the mesh window and shouted what I took to be other threats. I only recognised a few words, such as ‘communist!’ and ‘intellectual shit!’ I was standing near the window and I was spat on twice on my face, but I did not react and kept my eyes downcast.

Eventually we were allowed to sit. There were perhaps twenty five people in the room, many with bandages and plaster casts. It was intensely cold on the stone floor and I was shivering uncontrollably. At this point we had no blankets at all, so a few of us were sharing the sleeping bag as the only cover for warmth. All attempts to ask the guards any questions about our situation were met with curt refusal. After a while they started to allow people to go to the toilet one at a time. When my turn came I was marched head down up the corridor to the toilet. When I came out of the toilet another policeman, dressed grey fatigues, threw a container of cold water over me so my shirt and shorts were drenched. Sitting cold and wet in the holding cell increased my uncontrollable shaking. I believe that as well as being cold and afraid, I was suffering from the effects of shock and loss of blood.

I find it hard to remember the exact sequence of events in the holding cell. At irregular intervals groups of police would march in to the cell with a list of names – we had to jump to our feet when our name was called and answer also our nationality and date of birth. Other police continued to come to the outside window and shout threateningly. We were made to do another session of standing spread-eagled, which may have lasted an hour or so. In between we detainees would try to catch a few moments of sleep, lying on the stone floor or slumped against the walls. At no time did any police say anything about our situation – whether we had been arrested, if so what for, or about any legal process. Clearly the police felt they could do what they liked, with no regard for law or rights, and with no danger of being held to account. It felt like we had been ‘disappeared’ – abducted by violent paramilitary police to a camp where we were completely at their mercy and out of sight of the world.

During the day we were removed in one’s and two’s and taken to a parallel building for processing. This was also a hollow concrete shed but it contained a variety of sophisticated equipment on tables, such as military-looking laptop computers. I was escorted to this room by two plain clothes police wearing black leather gloves. I was photographed several times and my fingerprints were taken five times. I was also placed in front of a device attached to one of the computers, which had binocular lenses which were shone directly in to my eyes, which I thought could be for recording retinal scans. I was also made to sign several forms without understanding their contents – my questions about them were not answered.

At some point in the afternoon on of the supervising police came in with a bag of ham rolls. One of the Italian prisoners translated that he was telling us not to complain about this food. There were only about twelve rolls for the fifteen of us remaining in the cell. As many of us were vegetarians we took the rolls apart and tried to share the bread out evenly. This was the only food given to us until we arrived at Pavia prison the following afternoon (about 36 hours after arrest).

As evening came the atmosphere became very tense. All of the plain clothes police had disappeared and we were left with the paramilitaries. There were strange sounds from down the corridor – snatches of voices, some banging and crashing. Some people were removed from the cell and did not return. I had the feeling I had been transported to another continent – as I watched the guards take people out, images of Pinochet’s Chile flashed in to my mind. We were moved to another room where we again had to stand spread-eagled. I heard a blow and a prisoner close to me cried out (I now know that he was struck on the back of the head). We could hear what sounded like the sounds of people being beaten. Norman was one of the first to be removed from the cell, and a while later I heard Norman yell in pain. (I now know he was struck by a guard while being strip-searched). The barred door of the cell opposite had been covered by blankets and we couldn’t see who was being taken in and out of it. I felt sure we were going to be interrogated and made to sign false statements, to give the police some excuse for their violent actions. I had a whispered conversation with a German prisoner next to me in which we exchanged thoughts about how best to resist a beating. By this time I felt very weak through lack of food and sleep.

I was taken from the cell and processed by prison police in one of the side rooms – strip searched, photographed, fingerprinted etc. As I was being marched back down the corridor two of the paramilitaries in the grey uniforms gestured that I should go in to one of the side rooms. They had their sleeves rolled up and were wearing the thick riot gloves. But a superior officer behind me said something like “No, non identificato”, and I was taken back to the holding cell where we waited until dawn. Norman didn’t return to the cell and I was very worried about him.

In the morning we were handcuffed in to pairs and taken out of the camp in a prison coach to a place I know now to be Pavia Prison. On the way out of the coach we were given a plastic bag each with a couple of rolls and a bit of fruit. We were processed, given a couple of sheets and a towel and taken to cells. At last we were part of some sort of official judicial process and out of the hands of the paramilitary police. It was a relief. However, the prison guards also refused our requests to contact the outside world. There was still no explanation of our situation, just rumours among the prisoners about how long we could legally be kept incommunicado. My feelings, along with others I talked to, turned from relief to frustration.

On the second day in prison I was placed in a cell with Norman. It was great to see him again. Our experience of the prison was the difficulty of getting any explanations or getting our rights – that night I was denied sheets to sleep under for no reason. It was also a major struggle to get vegetarian food. I was having some trouble with my eyes because of wearing the same pair of contact lenses since my arrest. Although they were daily disposable lenses, which are dangerous to wear for more than a day because they can adhere to the surface of the eye, I didn’t dare to remove them because I felt under physical threat and I wanted to be able to see what was going on around me.

All of us were trying to insist on our rights to see a lawyer (avvocato) but to no avail. On Tuesday lunchtime I received six telegrams from family and friends, grudgingly handed over by a prison officer. This was a turning point – knowing that people knew about us and were out there working for us. Later that afternoon I was taken downstairs to meet Gilberto Pagani, the lawyer that my family had nominated for me. I believe I was the first prisoner to get a legal visit, and possibly the only one who got to see a lawyer before our judicial hearing. He explained that we would be taken in front of a magistrate who would check whether our detention was correct. Gilberto made me feel hopeful that the injustice of our arrest was going to be successfully challenged. He also told me about solidarity demonstrations in Milan and other Italian cities which gave me great hope. Later in the exercise yard I told the others about Gilberto’s visit, and we all felt that the sooner we got in front of a magistrate the better.

The next day we were kept in groups in holding cells while waiting to see the magistrate. Five minutes before being taken to these cells the prison officers produced new shirts for us to wear. However I was determined to keep my bloodied shirt and not let them hide this evidence of my treatment. In the holding cells I was able to get more of an impression of all the injuries that people had sustained. In our cell, out of about ten people, we had a broken leg (multiple fracture), three broken arms or wrists, seven head wounds needing stitches, a broken nose, facial injuries, and two people whose backs were literally black with bruising. One of the German men told me that while lying on the ground at the school after being beaten, police officers had sprayed CS gas in to their wounds and their faces.

We were handed our charge sheet about 5 minutes before seeing the magistrate. It was in Italian and we had no translation, although we were clearly being charged as a group and there seemed to be a list of items the police claimed were found at the school. I could recognise that one item was a T-shirt bearing the slogan “Stop the Police Violence” – clearly whoever drew up the charge sheet missed the irony in this. Other dangerous items like ‘1 floppy disk’ were also listed, as well as some items of black coloured clothing. The magistrate asked me if I was a member of any organisation (to which I answered ‘a trade union’), whether I had seen any of the so-called Black Block in the school (no) or seen any Molotov cocktails in the school (again, no). She then asked me to describe my arrest. After a few minutes of my description she threw up her hands and said something like ‘non confirmato, non confirmato’ which was translated to me as ‘arrest not legally correct’. She also said I was free to go. I was then returned to my cell by the guards.

Some hours later I was given back my shoelaces and sleeping bag and processed out of the prison with a group of about five Germans and a Spanish detainee. When we got out of the front door we were confronted by a group of uniformed police who insisted that we get in to a police van – the woman officer said we were to be driven to the Italian border. A hundred yards up the road we could see a group of our supporters gathered at the prison gate. We insisted that we were free to go, which made the police very agitated. I noticed that we were also accompanied by four plain clothes officers. As we were arguing with the uniformed police these plain clothes officers moved between us and the front gate and pulled on leather gloves. We were told we were subject to a deportation order. Eventually we were persuaded to get in the van and we were driven to the main Pavia police station.

At the police station we were detained in a small side room and guarded by a detachment of carabinieri. We had to ask for permission to go to the toilet. Despite being declared free we were still obviously prisoners. However, there were some really great volunteers from the local Genoa Social Forum who brought us food and phone cards. One of them also gave me a T-shirt, for which I was very grateful. We could see supporters and the media gathered outside the police station fence but we couldn’t talk to them.

Our lawyers were at the police station and were mounting a legal challenge to our deportation order. The German and Spanish consuls arrived to talk to their nationals. Some time later the British consular staff also arrived at the police station. They were friendly, and helped us to move from an isolated side room to the main area of the station where other detainees were held. However, at no time did any of the consular staff attempt to systematically debrief me or take any sort of statement.

The legal tussle went on all night. When we asked the authorities how we could recover our belongings, abandoned in the school, there was no answer. I had left behind my rucksack, clothes and a mobile phone, but some of the others had cars and vans left in Genoa. I felt really bad for one of the German men whose girlfriend was injured in the police attack on the school – she was still in hospital in Genoa and he was going to be deported without even being able to see her.

We were given our deportation papers which stated that we were being deported from Italy, and excluded for five years, for being “ a danger to public order and security”. Given that over 60 out of the 93 people arrested at the school had serious injuries requiring hospital teatment, I believe the only danger we represented was as clear evidence of brutal and repressive policing. We were driven out of the station in a police coach under guard. This was at 4 a.m. but even at this time there was a crowd of local people waiting outside the police station to cheer us and show solidarity. At the airport we were dumped at the main entrance, and the police formed a sort of guard line on the pavement. After some milling around we were told that it was our own responsibility to deport ourselves, but that if we didn’t we would be re-arrested. When I asked how I could deport myself when the police had taken and kept my money and passport I was given no helpful answer. Norman and myself were assisted by the consular staff to book a ticket with a British Airways flight to Heathrow – however, we had to pay for the tickets ourselves with Norman’s credit card. On the plane home I became agitated by the fact that my sweat- and blood-stained clothing smelt bad. Apart from swapping the shirt, I had been wearing the same clothes since the original arrest. A kind stewardess gave me a sample bottle of aftershave so that I could cover the smell and be able to meet my parents and girlfriend with more confidence.

The police at the prison refused to give me my medical records when I was released. On returning to Britain I visited hospital to have a proper record made of my injuries which can be used in any action against the responsible authorities.

One of the Genoa Social Forum slogan’s was ‘Another World is Possible’, meaning a world based on justice and harmony rather than profit & exploitation. However, while in custody I felt a great fear for Italy and for the rest of Europe, that another even darker world is possible; a return to fascism. I have seen that pockets of this world exist within the Italian state. How far are we going to allow it to spread?

I believe that there was a systematic attempt to intimidate, brutalise and imprison me. But one unintended effect has been a huge outpouring of support and care from friends and strangers to me, my family and the other detainees. Many have said that this incident has woken them up to how bad things have become. There is a broad sense of determination to oppose global injustice. Despite having had a painful and frightening experience I feel inspired and strengthened to stand up for a better world.

SIGNED - Dan McQuillan, 31st July 2001