Archives for the month of: August, 2011

The show of support outside court on Friday went better than last time – nobody was threatened with arrest (as far as we know)!

A huge thank you to everyone that came, your support is surely appreciated.

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Yesterday I went to Westminster magistrates court to watch the case management hearing for 13 protesters. One of them is someone close to me. They were among the 145 people originally arrested outside Fortnum & Mason in March, and they’ve become such a whittled down group because a first set of defendants have already had their hearing with a trial set for November, while the bulk of those who were arrested have had their cases dropped. The campaign to drop all the cases continues, but meanwhile here we are, in the battered reception area of the second floor of the uninspired court building: the water dispenser empty, a cashpoint saying “FINES PAYMENT” ready to swallow guilty cards, tiles missing from the ceiling.

Everyone was gathered by the door of Court 5, about to go into the courtroom, when another trial gazumped this one at the last moment and gave us another half hour to spend outside: the defendants with their solicitors in a closed room, the partners and parents (there were only a handful) banked on metal seats in the waiting area.

Soon, the clerks gathered everyone up again and the defendants went in. They had to sit scattered across different areas of the courtroom like playing pieces in a complicated boardgame. Five were behind a slatted glass screen, four on a bench at the back, one alone in a raised wooden box towards the front, another couple adrift on benches. One had entered his plea earlier that day so wasn’t there.

The judge, DJ Snow (I still can’t get over that name), entered: a lean man, with dark grey hair, glasses, and expressive eyebrows and mouth that were put to good use throughout the afternoon, as he grimaced, scowled and smiled in reaction to whatever was presented to him by the three solicitors on the central bench: Mike Schwarz of the firm Bindmans, and Raj Chada of Hodge Jones & Allen, each representing different defendants, and Robert Short of the CPS.

First the prosecution were asked to explain to the judge why they have dropped 119 cases, but are still prosecuting these. The CPS man spoke of “possession and use of materials enhancing the aggravation of the offence”. What materials were these, in plain English? “Banners, cordon tape, leaflets and signs,” he explained, seeming particularly concerned about leaflets “in bundles or piles”. He said that such items suggested their owners “came to the event with some idea or intention towards promoting their cause.”

The judge’s eyebrows and mouth drew an exasperated face, and he pointed out that it isn’t criminal to have leaflets in favour of a cause. “It’s not in itself criminal,” admitted the CPS. “It’s a measure of the filter the Crown have used to sift the defendants. They had the means to play a more significant role on the day.” Perhaps the leaflets were used to make origami swans.

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Everyone left of the Fortnum145 whose charges have not been dropped has, as of today, had the chance to enter their plea in court. And everyone has plead the same:

NOT GUILTY.

A couple of interesting things happened today, while we prepare a full update for you, you might like to read this article by Shiv Malik from the Guardian, which sums things up pretty well.

Thanks for your continued support – we have a right to protest!

On 19th August, the second half of the defendants remaining from the occupation of Fortnum and Masons will appear in court to enter their pleas and have their court dates set.
(See the Facebook event here)

Our support is both an incredible morale boost for those facing the daunting prospect of the courtroom and also sends a clear message to those few that want to quash the right to protest.

Meeting place
City Of Westminster Magistrates Court, 70 Horseferry Road, London
Date
Friday 19th August 2011
Time to meet
1.30pm

You all know the story by now…

The F&M occupation was described by a senior police officer on the scene as ‘sensible’ and ‘non-violent’. Another description of the sit-in reads: “the perfect accompaniment to my tea and scones” – a sit-in to draw attention to the £10m/year tax-dodge by Wittington Investments, the owners of Fortnum & Mason while the rest of the country faces deep cuts to public spending and services.

After being assured that they could leave safely and unhindered, the protesters were kettled by riot police. They were then arrested one by one – some none too gently! despite the lack of resistance on the behalf of the protesters – handcuffed and flung all across London for detention. The arrestees had their clothes and property confiscated, their DNA and fingerprints taken and stored. In possible breaches of arrest protocol, the arrestees were not intereviewed and some went without food for the 23+ hours that they were held. Protesters were finally released after up to the full maximum 24 hours detention in all white tracksuits/paper suits in unfamiliar areas of London – a sizeable number of arrestees being from far outside London.

Lynne Owens, the Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, has admitted that the arrests were made for intelligence purposes.

The arrests have been universally condemned – as ‘confusing political anger with criminality’ and ”threaten[ing] the right to peacefully protest’. A coalition of unions and NGOs released a statement of support for the protesters saying that they ‘were treated in a political and deceptive manner by the police which sends an ominous message about the right to protest’.

Tax avoiders should be on trial, not protestors who raise awareness of their scams so please come and support the second half of the remaining defendants.

In July MumsUncut held a tea party in Southampton to raise funds to help with the FM145 campaign. It was super fun and we raised £148. We hope our fundraising campaign continues well, and it’s a good job that we have a lot less work to do now (that they’ve dropped 115 cases)!

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