Spanish police officers acted with “exquisite proportionality” when using force to stop the independence referendum on October 1, 2017, Guardia Civil colonel Diego Pérez de los Cobos told the Supreme Court on Tuesday. “By no means were [referendum] voters the target of the police operation” said Pérez de los Cobos, who was in charge of coordinating the police operation to stop the independence referendum.

Testifying in the trial of independence leaders, he added that Spanish police officers gave up on seizing referendum material from polling stations “on several occasions” due to the “hostility and aggressiveness” of people there. Although a thousand people were injured on the day of the referendum, with Spanish police using hardline tactics to disrupt the vote, Pérez de los Cobos called the operation “meticulous, professional, and proportional.”

Pérez de los Cobos described the security meeting held with Catalan officials before the vote as “Kafkaesque.” “We were sitting in front of those who had called [a referendum] deemed illegal and which we had to stop,” he said. “We told [president Carles] Puigdemont that nothing would happen if he called off the referendum, but he didn’t do it” Pérez de los Cobos told the Supreme Court on Tuesday afternoon.

Difficult relationship 

Charged with coordinating the different police forces in Catalonia, Pérez de los Cobos said the former Mossos d’Esquadra Catalan police chief, Josep Lluís Trapero, showed his “disagreement” with his appointment. “The relationship with Catalan police chief Trapero was always difficult,” said Pérez de los Cobos, who added that Trapero’s plan for October 1 “would not prevent the referendum.” “It looked more like a plan for an election than an illegal vote,” he added.

The colonel also said that Trapero thought “it would be difficult to close down all polling stations” while he warned that the police operation could end up inflicting “greater damage than that to be avoided.” Earlier in the day, Spanish official Juan Antonio Puigserver told the court that he remembered Pérez de los Cobos saying “public coexistence can’t be an excuse for not using force and complying with court orders.”

Puigserver, who was in charge of the Catalan interior ministry during the period of direct rule after the referendum, also testified on Tuesday, saying the Catalan and Spanish governments had “different goals” ahead of October 1.