Today, like the 10 defendants before us, we have been found guilty of “entering a shop with the intention of intimidating others”. This is despite the fact that none of those charged were identified as having engaged in any “intimidating” behaviour. In fact, CCTV footage showed defendants variously interacting in a friendly manner with customers, walking around, sitting down, and clearing up litter on their way out.
However, our actions inside the store were apparently largely irrelevant to the ruling, with our merely entering the shop in a group sufficient to prove our guilt. The prosecution argued that we were engaged in a tactic of “shock and awe”, seeking to “cow” and “terrify” shoppers and staff into “submission”. Anyone who has been on UK Uncut actions in the past knows that these militaristic analogies are at best melodramatic, at worst a deliberate misrepresentation of our actions to criminalise our methods of protest. Intimidation is categorically not what UK Uncut actions are about. Meanwhile the Government are implementing a cuts agenda that bullies and harasses the most vulnerable in our society whilst court rulings such as this and others attempt to intimidate those who dissent into submission.
We find this ruling absurd in its logic, but moreover of grave concern by way of its implications for freedom of expression and protest in this country. This ruling effectively prioritises the rights of high street tax dodgers not to be embarrassed by our creative and peaceful sit-ins over democratic rights to congregation and expression. We hope to see this decision overturned on appeal.
Happily, the case against one defendant was dismissed during the trial for not fulfilling the prosecution’s criteria against which to continue with prosecutions. Rather than being found with the threshold number of 20 UK Uncut leaflets in her possession, it was discovered by the defence barristers that she in fact only held 16 plus an old theatre ticket. Although this was obviously a welcome outcome, we believe that it is indicative of a generally arbitrary prosecution procedure employed by the CPS. The handling of our case is apparently in keeping with new guidelines announced by the Director of Public Prosecutions which seek to distinguish the average “peaceful” law-abiding protester from the “disruptive” and truly criminal. We believe that our case shows this to be a false distinction that is actually more about criminalising legitimate and effective means of protest.