On Saturday, June 8 I organised the protest march through Chelmsford against the closure of up to 60 per cent of libraries in Essex.

However, nearly ten years of austerity not only sees most of our libraries under threat, but even our right to protest against this act of cultural vandalism being attacked.

Essex Police is using the most underhand tactics to prevent legal, democratic, and peaceful protest marches taking place as their response to cuts.

I have been involved in the organisation of protest marches in Essex going back to the Eighties and Essex Police had only ever been highly cooperative.

It has always been a given that a protest march takes place on the road.

Not only is it far safer to move a large body of people along the carriageway - there are clear dangers when hundreds of people are crowded onto narrow pavements - protesters or even passers by could easily spill out onto the road into traffic.

Campaigners in Manningtree have indeed reported children being put in danger after Essex Police told them to keep their library protest march in April on the pavement.

But it also the democratic thing to do. A protest march is there to get noticed and make a statement, not go window shopping.

Even in this age of austerity and as an experienced protest organiser it was quite a shock when I was first told by Essex Police that a protest march must stick to the pavement.

When I told them it was our democratic right to march in the road, Essex Police told me we would be arrested for highway obstruction for marching in the road.

Ultimately after an intervention from lawyers at Liberty, Essex Police backed down from these threats to arrest, but still told me we should stick to the pavement.

If we went ahead on the road, I would have to be responsible for traffic control.

Essex Police simply did not want to provide the officers.

Eventually about 700 people came from across the county to peacefully protest against the closure of their libraries.

Our stewards provided traffic control - which was not our job.

Austerity sees Essex Police choosing to ignore its responsibility under the Human Rights Act to safely facilitate peaceful protest.

Over the years I have protested against all sorts of threats to peaceful protest, including organising a protest march in Essex against the Criminal Justice Bill in the Nineties.

Yet rather than such legislation, it is austerity, largely unnoticed and quite insidiously, that is providing the biggest ever threat to our right to peaceful protest and the basic principles of a democratic society.

Andy Abbott

Save our Libraries Essex