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It’s been three days shy of a year, but for seven UK Uncut protesters and a legal observer, justice has finally been done. The verdict arrived this afternoon – NOT GUILTY.
We’re obviously on top of the world, but we feel the need to emphasise our solidarity with the twenty-one protesters who stood in court before us and who didn’t see the same verdict.
We hope that our verdict shows that it was a peaceful protest and we clearly did not intend to ‘intimidate’ anyone, and that today’s result should cast a light on the upcoming appeals of our fellow demonstrators.
The fight isn’t over though. New legislation this week is making tax dodging more and more appealing to those who can afford the accountants, at the same time the austerity measures are taking their brutal effect.
Stay tuned. Stay active. Stay activists.

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!

We’ve just walked out from the second day of Trial C.

It’s been somewhat surprising so far, principally because the District Judge (DJ), in stark contrast with the previous two, seems to be a reasonable human being. The defence are not having, this time, to take the knocks of ridicule and obvious bias that we’d become accustomed to. DJ Purdy is actually listening, though in a thoroughly professional manner he’s giving nothing away if he does indeed intend to find these last defendants guilty.

Day one was comprised entirely of the prosecution’s case. Amidst an awful lot of rhetoric about events surrounding the Fortnum & Mason occupation, there was no evidence presented at all connecting any defendants with any intimidating acts whatsoever. In fact, the prosecutor’s argument very much revolves around the idea that the protest was intimidating because there were a lot of people there protesting.

The defence put to the magistrate that there was, in fact, no case against the defendants to answer. Purdy, to our astonishment, agreed to consider the decision overnight.

Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

DPP’s Today programme announcement shows that the CPS are not even following their bizarre new guidelines

By one of the Fortnum & Mason arrestees

These days, I’m all too used to being woken up by the sound of my own voice shouting at the radio. This particular Tuesday morning, I discovered that my semi-conscious yells were being directed at Kier Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), on the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 [from
2:53].

Mr Starmer had just said something about a case I was involved in – a mass arrest that I’d been caught up in at an anti-cuts protest at Fortnum & Mason last March. The thing he’d just said meant that either he was woefully misinformed about our case, or else that he was flat-out lying for PR purposes. His exact words, in an interview about some new prosecution guidelines that he was announcing that day, were:

“We have had cases recently where hundreds of people have been arrested. To take the example of Fortnum & Mason we had had over a hundred people who were essentially peaceful in that situation and in respect of whom we dropped charges, but others who were more involved and they’ve been charged.”

Mr Starmer was holding our case up as an example of good practice, and saying this was how protest cases should be run in the future. Under the new rules, prosecutors would be encouraged to divide protesters into two types: those with “peaceful intent” and those who “came along planning to commit violence or disruption”. There are huge problems with this kind of “good protesters vs. bad protesters” split in any case (more on that in a moment), but the immediate implication of what he was saying was that the people who had been charged for the Fortnum case had been selected because they were “more involved” than the others in “planning violence and disruption”.

Read the rest of this entry »

This drama about UK activism tells the story of what happened when radio producers got a little too close to the action.

With recordings of the protests mixed with drama recordings, actual participants mixed with actors, Occupied creates a world of sound that is both authentic and original.

The play is made in collaboration with artist and activist John Jordan; as well containing sound from within the Fortnum and Mason sit-in it also documents the actual moments when a crowd of activists decide to make camp outside St Paul’s cathedral.

What emerges is not only a play about three people trying to make a play – it’s about how and why people protest in the UK.

You can listen to the radio play on the BBC website.
It hit the airwaves on 17 February 2012, 14:15 on BBC Radio 4.

Today the 21 Spartacus defendants, who reinstated their cases after they  were dropped by the CPS, had their cases formally dismissed after pleading ‘not guilty’ and having no evidence presented against them.

This throws the conviction of 10 people for aggravated trespass last week into stark relief. The judgement was made that these defendants were guilty on the basis of joint enterprise – that as a group they had intended to intimidate.  This was despite the fact that none of the defendants were shown to be doing anything intimidating.The CPS chose to drop 109 cases, leaving 30 to face trial.  Then, due to a processing error, they accidentally dropped one of the 30 cases, leaving 29. The first 10 defendants were there because they had previous convictions (a point which was ruled as not relevant to the case at hand), or because they were carrying placards (in one case, the placard was a UCU placard) or used a megaphone.  Perhaps the most ridiculous was one defendant who was seen on CCTV to pick up a green umbrella and open it.

The facts are simple.  The 21 spartacus defendants walked into the shop, along with those still facing trial.  They participated in the meetings, and remained in the shop until the group decided to leave, and were subsequently arrested.

The very basis that the prosecution used to divide the defendants has been dismissed as irrelevant – but we still have very different outcomes for various defendants.

This is great news that the Spartacus defendants were found not guilty. We hope that this decision will help the court of appeal to make the right decision about those convicted last week, and that people are not intimidated from protesting about issues they care about.

This open letter was published in the Guardian on Friday November 18th:

This week, the first 10 defendants from the blanket arrest of people joining the UK Uncut protest in Fortnum & Mason’s were found guilty, despite their actions being described by the senior police officer on the scene as “non-violent and sensible”(Report, 18 November). The judge ruled that the simple act of “demonstrating” is potentially intimidating, and therefore a crime. Read the rest of this entry »