As the national Conservative Party in the U.K. held its annual meeting in Manchester over the weekend, an anti-austerity demonstration against the ruling party's economic policies attracted not only tens of thousands of people to march peacefully... but a few police snipers to keep "watch" over those who oppose the government's gutting of the public sector.
Outrage resulted as images surfaced showing how police had dispatched sniper teams to rooftops in the city as an estimated 60,000 people, including families with young children, followed a route through the city center.
As the Manchester Evening News first reported:
Pictures have circulated on social media showing snipers on roofs in Manchester city centre during the Tory Party conference.
Police marksmen can be seen on the top of the Great Northern complex, and it is understood they are also on situated on other another city centre building.
Many wrote about the pictures on social media. Twitter user Ben Whittingham posted an aerial photograph of a man looking through the sniper on top of a roof.
He captioned it: “Just a police sniper on roof of Tory party conference, which resembles a prison.”
The original tweet from Whittingham is here:
— Ben Whittingham (@BenWhittingham2) October 4, 2015
In response to the public outcry, a Greater Manchester Police spokesperson told reporters the sniper units were only being used for "observation" purposes. "[The guns]," the official said, "are used for their powerful sight, which is stronger than any pair of binoculars. They are not there to shoot people."
Despite those assurances, many on social media condemned the behavior and scoffed at the reasoning offered by police:
Hold on a second. I needed a second to process what I just read.. Police are using Sniper rifles to "observe" anti austerity protests. Cray.
— James (@JMZ_UK) October 5, 2015
— Henry Smith (@hnrysmth) October 5, 2015
— Sonia Basson (@SoniaBasson) October 4, 2015