Archives for category: Press Releases

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.

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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.

 

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 »

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

Tommorrow, 10 UK Uncut activists begin their three week trial at Westminster Magistrates Court over their alleged involvement in a tax avoidance protest inside Fortnum and Mason.

Of the 145 people originally arrested at the luxury store on March 26 this year, 29 face trials which will be conducted by the courts in three separate groups, ending in March next year.

The Crown Prosecution Service have charged all the defendants with Aggravated Trespass, alleging that each had an “intention to intimidate”[1].
Across the three weeks of this first trial Chief Police Officers will be cross examined and the defence are expected to challenge their controversial decision to use ‘mass arrest’ tactics. Information will be revealed about the alleged misleading of protesters by the police [2] and claims that arrests were made for intelligence gathering purposes [3], as part of what the protestors brand ‘political policing’. Read the rest of this entry »

Fortnum and Mason 145 Campaign

Tel: 07771850963

Email: media@fortnum145.org

Embargo: 10/10/2011

FORTNUM AND MASON ‘SPARTACUS’ PROTESTORS DUE IN COURT

1300: City of Westminster Magistrates Court,NW1 5HB

At 2pm on Monday, Westminster Magistrates court will hear an unprecedented case involving 21 ukuncut activists who have asked to be taken to court, taking a popular cultural reference in declaring themselves as ‘Spartacus’ in the process [1].

This follows on from the sit-in protest at the luxury Fortnum and Mason store in March of this year, in which the police controversially arrested 145 protestors for ‘aggravated trespass’ and held them for 24 hours in a police cell [2].

However, in July this year, the protesters received a letter from the CPS stating that they would only be continuing to prosecute 30 individuals, and would be ‘discontinuing’ the cases against 109 protesters [3].

However, shortly afterwards, the 21 activists in question used their right to ‘revive’ a criminal prosecution by sending a letter back to the CPS asking to be re-trialled in solidarity with those 30 protesters still face prosecution [4].

The 21 risk a maximum sentence of 3 months in prison and a maximum fine of £1,500 if prosecuted and found guilty.

Thomas Pursey said “I’m sparticus! The attempted prosecution of 30 individuals for simply sitting in a shop protesting about unncessary cuts and disgusting tax avoidance by the rich is a farse! I’m standing up and saying the CPS should drop all charges!”

Robert Johnstone, one of those who was arrested at Fortnum and Masons said “It is clear that we were all arrested in an attempt to scare people from protesting, and the police have already admitted that arrests were made for ‘intelligence gathering’ on UK Uncut [5]. I had to spend 24 hours in a police cell for a legitimate protest about the government’s unfair and unnecessary cuts to public services. It is supposed to be our democratic right to protest!”

The outcome of the court hearing on Monday – in which the 21 will be entering plees ahead of the first full trials in November – is unclear given the unprecedented nature of the move.

The courts may prosecute, adding more names to an already bulging post-riot court schedule and budget. Or they may offer ‘no evidence’, thereby formerly finding the 21 ‘not guilty’.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Today the CPS have announced that they will be dropping 109 cases of the 145 arrested at Fortnum & Masons during anti-cuts demonstrations on March 26th. There remains 30 people who the CPS still plan on prosecuting, 13 of which have a trial set for November.

But questions remain as to why the decision was taken to arrest 145 people staging a sit-down protest against tax dodgers and why they continue to prosecute 30 individuals with the same charges as the 109 dropped today.

Lucy, one of the protesters who today had her charges dropped:

I’m relieved that the CPS finally sees sense that prosecuting those fighting unjust cuts with sit-ins is a complete waste of money and time. But if its not in the public interest to prosecute me, why is it in the public interest to prosecute another 30 simply because they had leaflets in their bags. It’s ridiculous. All the arrests were politically motivated, designed to try and scare ordinary people from building a movement against the unjust unnecessary cuts. The charges against the remaining 30 must be dropped immediately.

Robert, one of the 30 remaining defendants:

I’m delighted that most people have now been let off but I am annoyed, frustrated and angry that I will still have to face a very time consuming and stressful trial when not only is it totally ridiculous that we were all arrested for sitting in a shop in the first place, but after the CPS have now admitted it is not in the public interest to prosecute such people, they are still prosecuting 30 of us based on having leaflets and flags! This is clearly an attempt to make an example of us and put people off from protesting, all within our so-called ‘justice system’. Criminal charges against protesters must be dropped immediately.

For Immediate Release,  fortnum145.org

The first Fortnum and Mason 145 hearing takes place as our campaign continues to grow.

Yesterday morning, around 70 people gathered outside the court hearing of Fortnum & Mason occupiers as well as others arrested on March 26 and the student demonstrations. The court have decided to hold a case management hearing on the 27th June, it’s a high possibility that a test case involving 10-20 defendants will take place shortly after. We have to make clear that this decision is not fully confirmed and may be different in some cases.

The Fortnum145 campaign was established for the 145 protesters who were controversially arrested after staging a sit-in at Fortnum & Mason called by UK Uncut on March 26th.

The protest, that took place on the day of the TUC ‘march for alternative’, highlighted the £40million tax dodge by Associated British Foods which is majority-owned by Fornum & Mason’s parent company Wittington Investments. The figure of £40 million of tax avoidance has been calculated by fours years of operation of a £9.7 million dodge exposed by Tax Research UK. See here

Footage which emerged since the protest shows a senior police officer at the scene, describing the protest as ‘non-violent and sensible’ and promising that they would all be free to leave. In oral evidence from the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lynne Owens to the Home Affairs Committee stated the motivation for the mass arrests was for intelligence gathering.

She said: “Do we now need to build on that intelligence picture? Yes, we do. It is why the fact that we arrested as many people as we did is so important to us because that obviously gives us some really important intelligence opportunities. … We do need to improve the intelligence picture, but our ability to arrest over 200 people at the weekend gives us a very good starting point in terms of building that picture”

Sophie Stephens, a supporter of the Fortnum 145 said: “The treatment of the protesters has been a clear attack on the right to protest and civil liberties. The mass arrest happened amidst calls for the police to be given more rights spy on protesters. The police have even told parliament that this was an opportunity to gather intelligence about protestors. This is political policing clear and simple.”

The Fortnum 145 campaign is independent of UK Uncut and was established by family and friends for the 145 protesters who were controversially arrested after staging a sit-in at Fortnum & Mason called by UK Uncut. It aims to counter inaccurate reporting in the media that property was damaged inside Fortnum & Mason by these protesters and to highlight the criminalization of legitimate protest.

The campaign has been running for a short amount of time but has already generated huge interest. Since the launch, their website, Fortnum145.org, has had over 14,000 views and on Facebook alone, 3,500 people have liked the campaign.

ends

Keep up-dated – follow us on twitter @FM145

LINKS:

Lynne Owens evidence to the Home Affairs Committee is available at:
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmselect/cmhaff/uc917-i/uc91701.htm

A video of the police officer inside Fortnum & Mason is available at:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/mar/28/cuts-protest-uk-uncut-fortnum

Today’s protest was organised by Defend the Right to Protest Campaign:
http://defendtherighttoprotest.org/