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By Adam Ramsay – this post first appeared on Bright Green

What a wonderful final scene of the first act of this farce.

When the CPS chose to prosecute only 30 of the 145 people arrested in Fortnum and Mason’s on the 26th of June, we laughed at the arbitrary criteria chosen. The judge then recognised that we couldn’t all fit into a court together, and broke us into three groups – trial A, trial B, and Trial C – each with a different judge I have written before about the comedy enacted at trial A and trial B.

But tial C closed today. When I visited them in the middle of their case, something was different. The judge appeared to actually be listening to the case being made. And unlike the judge in the second trial, he was actually aware of the charge before the court. Today, he found the defendants not guilty. That’s not to say the case didn’t have its share of humour.

When I visited, Polly Toynee and John McDonnell were giving expert witness statements. Both – respectable characters in the eyes of the court – were able to ridicule the absurd prosecution in a way the usually younger defendants couldn’t. Mologne, the aggressive prosecutor, had, for example, been making a big deal out of the fact that we all arrived at Fortnum’s at once. He talked about us ‘rushing the door’.When he grilled Polly on previous actions she had been on, he said ‘but you didn’t all rush the door at once’. She replied that, in fact, at Barclay’s, once, they had all arrived at once – more than a hundred of them: ‘oh, yes, we did do that’. But this is hardly a criminal offence…

When John McDonnell was asked if he felt his elder constituents would be intimidated by a protest, Mr McDonnell pointed out that he was at a protest in his constituency just this week. “The average age was 65-75”.

And as well as humour, the trial had its heroics – each of the defendants gave evidence. Each who I saw was magnificent in refusing the accept the absurdity of the premices on which they were questioned.

And ultimately, the judge saw sense.

Trial A will appeal to the High Court – they got the law wrong. Trial B will appeal to the Crown Court – a full retrial. But the fact that three supposedly identical trials have led to different verdicts shows quite how absurd this all is… And how wonderful that a third of us are now free!

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.

 

The story of a case being dropped mid trial because they had 16 UK Uncut leaflets, rather than the CPS’s criteria of 20 leaflets…

 

I spent 2 days in court on trial last week, only to find out that the reason I was there was for a few leaflets and a theatre ticket!

It may seem ridiculous that one could be facing up to 3 months in jail for having a few leaflets on them, but that is in fact why many of the people from the March 26th occupation at Fortnum & Mason are there (among other crimes such as reading poetry, and having protested before!) And in my case, the leaflets in question were irrelevant to the case!

Court got off to a false start with Judge Evans being ill, and negotiations were made regarding when the hearing could take place. 3 days later we got started, almost. The prosecutor spent much time trying to work the DVD machine, in the end the machine was deemed redundant and we had to move court rooms. First was the prosecution, witnesses were called – F&M staff on the first day, and police on the second – it was difficult not to laugh out loud at the hyperbolae and the bear-faced lies; “There were easter eggs flying everywhere” and “Intelligence gathering was not the aim, just a side-effect”. (I paraphrase.)

Half way through the second day, The prosecution had called their final witness, Detective Inspector Matthew Hearing. He brought our ‘guilty possessions’ to show the Judge. As a stroke of luck, the prosecutor used the wrong wording for my evidence, causing me to frown, my barrister noticing this, asked to see my evidence (which she had not seen before) – discovering that the police had ‘miscounted’ my number of leaflets, or rather counted irrelevant leaflets and a theatre ticket in addition to the 16 contentious Occupy leaflets I had had on my person. The ‘charging threshold’, ridiculous as it may sound, was to try those who had 20 or more UK Uncut leaflets on them at the time of arrest. I guess we will never know if this was a deliberate manipulation of the evidence, or just incompetence – neither of which reflect very well. It being clear that I was 4 leaflets shy of what the prosecution deem as guilty – they had to let me go. Well lucky me, but the remaining defendants are still there. Those 4 flimsy leaflets are what stand between me and my friends who are still on trial.

So a year has now passed, thousands of pounds have been poured into this farce of a trial, into attacking a form of protest that has successfully brought tax evasion to the forefront of conversation. What about spending our money on going after the politicians, tax dodgers and bankers who are ruining the economy, and taking away our jobs, libraries and public services? So, what have I learned from this experience? After being lied to by the police, had a ride in a police van where they boasted about their malpractice, been held for 24 hours and been tried over theatre tickets – I can confirm that any last naive flicker of faith I may have had in our legal system has been snuffed. If the idea is to dis-empower people from protesting, they are failing. For every time they throw something in our faces, we get harder, more resilient and more enthusiastic.

By a courtroom observer

This Thursday (8th March), ten people went on trial in Westminster Magistrates Court for the heinous crime of Walking Into A Shop. This is the second of three scheduled trials (A, B and C) of the thirty people charged with committing ‘aggravated trespass with the intention to intimidate’, by entering Fortnum & Mason in London last March, as part of a UK Uncut tax-dodging protest (for the full story so far, see here).

On Wednesday morning, Director of Public Prosecutions Kier Starmer had appeared on Radio 4’s Today programme. He’d been launching a new set of prosecution guidelines for dealing with protesters. Despite the fact that the way the Fortnums defendants were being prosecuted didn’t actually fit these guidelines, the prosecution insisted that all was well and it was fine to push ahead with the trial.

Day 1: Thursday

After a three-day delay (the judge had been ill) the trial finally got started at 10am on Thursday morning. The prosecutor David Malone charged into his case like a corporate tax accountant who’s just spotted an exciting new loophole. His job was to prove that the ten defendants had trespassed in the shop with the intention to intimidate staff and customers, in order to force the store to close. A rather strange claim for a protest that even the police described as sensible and non-violent, but there you go.

Read the rest of this entry »

Today, the 10 of us who were on trial have been found guilty of taking part in a protest.

A protest that was dubbed ‘sensible’ by the senior police officer at the scene.

We were standing up, or more accurately sitting down, against our government making harsh cuts to public services, whilst letting companies like Fortnum and Masons get away with dodging a total of tens of billions of pounds of tax every year.

Then we are put on trial, whilst it’s clear the real criminals are the tax dodgers, the politicians and the bankers who caused this financial crisis and who continue to profit.

We are supposed to have a democratic right to protest yet people like us, exercising that right and expressing our discontent feel the force of the law and receive harsh and disproportionate sentences.

We have been convicted of Aggravated Trespass, an example of a law created in the 1990’s as an attack on our rights to protest and which is used in situations like this one to turn protesting into a crime.

We will, of course, continue to fight this and will be appealing the judgement.

As the government’s cuts continue to destroy the economy and people’s lives we will not be put off by these attempts at humiliating and punishing us.

 
 
 

The defendants recieved ‘conditional discharges’ and fines, and a collective total of £10,000 debt towards ‘prosecution’s costs’.

You can donate to the campaign here

11/11/11 day 2 of the first trial
Report from the courtroom from an anonymous ‘Spartacus’

To begin with the court was adjourned until 11, DJ snow was at a meeting that had unexpectedly been brought forward. Some of the defendants were heading out for coffee when I arrived, but I’d just been through security so I headed up to wait in the lobby. A few doors down from us outside court five were the squatting activists awaiting trail. 18 of them are up, having been (link to video) arrested last week on charges of assembling without a permit within a mile of parliament (section 132).

The first swathe of witnesses consisted of customers who happened to be eating or having afternoon tea in Fortnum & Masons when the occupation began. Following the testaments of four customers the court adjourned for lunch, which was lucky because after that talk of afternoon tea I was famished. After lunch two witnesses who were working at F&M that day were called; both sales assistants.

We came to the end of the witnesses for the day, and the trial was ahead of schedule, what followed was a detailed discussion about ‘housekeeping’ including which of the chief police officers we’re calling to cross examine about their decisions that lead to our arrests . After some discussion around bad character the court was adjourned again so the Judge could read the associated documents.

The prosecution has requested that the previous convictions of some of the defendants in all three trials are disclosed and considered as evidence. They argued that these convictions are relevant to the case as they are activism- related. The judge somewhat surprisingly refused, explaining that he was not satisfied that any of the convictions give any propensity to commit this offense, as they are not sufficiently similar. In his words ‘this really comes down to joint enterprise or nothing’.

This is good news for us, but some of the 30  were chosen to be on trial – according to the prosecution-  only because of previous convictions, which the judge just ruled as irrelevant to the case! This highlights the injustice and arbitrariness of dropping the charges of many of the defendants while keeping some on trial.