Panton House 16 Anti-Protest Trial: Total Victory!Tagged as: occupylondon repression solidarity
Dateline: Court One, Westminster Magistrates Court, London, UK, 11:45 Wed 08 Aug 2012 – In a political trial targeting public protest, all sixteen defendants arrested during in an OccupyLSX banner drop at Panton House on Wed 30 Nov 2011 were today ACQUITTED OF ALL THE CHARGES laid against them by the Crown Prosecution Service. After five days in court, a shed load of jubilant innocent people celebrated outside the doors of Westminster Magistrates Court, and afterwards with booze in a local hostelry. The criminal charges brought against them under section 5 of the Public Order Act in an anti-public-protest political trial failed to be proved to the satisfaction of District Judge Elizabeth Roscoe, sitting alone on the bench of Court One.
There's more to follow, but I wanted to get the Great News of this Victory For The Right To Protest out into the public domain while it's Fresh-&-Tasty. Many congratulations to the Panton House 16 on their total victory in court today, and many thanks to their defence team of barristers and solicitors, who succeeded brilliantly in demonstrating the fatal weaknesses in Crown's case against these valiant victors for freedom.
Addition: Thu 09 Aug 2012
Despite filthy rich bankers in the City of London (and other global finance hubs) appearing to be the proximal cause of capitalism's on-going global financial crisis, in the UK the vicious 1%ers "We're all in [sh]it together" ConDem Government are determined to make ordinary working class folk pay the price for capitalism’s death throes, by imposing austerity measures that damage the living standards of the 99%. Such class war attacks provoke resistance, and on Wed 30 Nov 2011, the UK experienced mass strike action by public sector workers, incensed by attacks from the ConDem Government on their working conditions and pension rights:
“On November 30th an estimated 2 million public sector workers went on strike in Great Britain, making it the biggest protest since the General Strike in 1926. Several of the big public sector unions called out its members currently in receipt of a public sector pension scheme to strike against the huge cuts the government is proposing, which involve workers paying more into their pension pots, working longer and receiving less when they retire. Even the headmasters union went on strike, which has never struck before in its entire 150 year existence!”
~ International Communist Party, from 'The Public Sector workers’ Strike on November 30', at Indymedia London on 14 Dec 2011
Since Sat 15 Oct 2011, London had experienced the game-changing 'Occupy London Stock Exchange' (OccupyLSX) action growing into an expanding and on-going reclamation of three public spaces by folk willing to create and maintain autonomous spaces as permanent demonstrations that 'Another World Is Possible'.
“Occupy London was [and is] a non-violent protest and demonstration against economic inequality taking place in London, United Kingdom, which lasted from 15 October 2011 till 14 June 2012. Its original remit was to unite workers and unemployed alike in order to bring to the fore, the lack of affordability of housing in the United Kingdom, social injustice, corporate greed and the influence of companies and lobbyists on government. Thwarted in their original aim to camp outside the London Stock Exchange, a camp was set up nearby next to St Paul's Cathedral. The protests began in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York, United States, and with support from tax avoidance protest group UK Uncut and the London based contingent of the Spanish 15M movement. In October protesters established two encampments in central London: one outside St Paul's Cathedral in the City of London and the other in Finsbury Square just to the north of the City. In November a third major site was opened in a disused office complex owned by UBS, named by protesters as the Bank of Ideas.”
~ Wikipedians, from ‘Occupy London’
So on the day of the mass public sector workers’ strike, OccupyLSX mobilised several practical support actions to demonstrate the solidarity of the global Occupy movement with the striking workers. A mass of folk with a 15 metre long banner reading “ALL POWER TO THE 99%” visited several strike day picket lines from early morning to early afternoon, and were at Piccadilly Circus at 15:00, together with a samba band, for a much-tweeted mass solidarity action by OccupyLSX. Here’s where the banner ended up shortly thereafter…
• ‘All power to the 99%’, by Christian Lampe
» video, 00:34 – http://vimeo.com/32921338
• Occupy protesters target London building Panton House
» video, 01:36 – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-15970921
…atop Panton House on Haymarket, targeted because it houses the London registered offices of the Anglo-Swiss planet-rapist multinational corporation Xstrata , which has the dubious honour of harbouring the highest paid FTSE 100 CEO and ecocide criminal, Mick Davies.
COPS ASSAULT PROTESTORS
Despite evidence in open court of broken glasses, torn clothing, and women being thrown roughly onto the roof by a violent police assault on them, the defendants’ legal defence team chose not to emphasise the fact that (as per usual) the great majority ‘alarm, harassment, and distress’ was caused TO the protestors BY police thuggery, some of it meted out by the notoriously violent Territorial Support Group . An estimated 30 peaceful protestors were arrested, without even being given an opportunity to leave peacefully to avoid arrest. The court heard that they were told they were being arrested on suspicion of burglary (but nothing was stolen), criminal damage (but nothing was damaged), and aggravated trespass (but nobody had even confronted them and asked them to vacate the building).
So when the cops and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) looked closely at wha gwan, they realised that none of the specious “suspicion” reasons why these peaceful protestors were arrested would actually stand up in court. Curses! What to do?? So some eejit decided, “Well, we can hardly violently assault them, arrest them, and then not bother getting them punished – so let’s try this: tell ’em if they don’t accept a police caution, they’ll face criminal charges under section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 for ‘disorderly behaviour causing harassment, alarm or distress’ to the office workers in Panton House!” Entirely understandably, some of the victims of the police assault on their protest agreed to the lesser of two evils, and accepted a police caution , rather than risk gaining a criminal record (despite not apparently having committed the criminal offence with which they were being threatened with prosecution).
COLLECTIVE “OH, YEAH? PROVE IT!” LEADS TO EPIC FAIL BY CPS
However, accepting a police caution involves an admission of guilt, and 16 of those arrested defied this state-funded assault or their right to protest, reasoning that since they had NOT deliberately caused any ‘alarm, harassment, and distress’, then they were necessarily Not Guilty – unless the CPS could prove otherwise in a court of law, which they have subsequently and spectacularly failed to do. See the thing is this, OK: from being ushered in to Panton House by OccupyLSX activists, through climbing many flights of an ancillary fire escape staircase in an atmosphere of quiet concentration, to emerging with the “ALL POWER TO THE 99%” banner on the roof, NOT A SINGLE OFFICE WORKER WAS EVEN SEEN BY THE PROTESTORS! Indeed, in a quickly unfolding direct action such as this was, many defendants testified under oath that they assumed the building to be empty (in line with the Occupy movement’s modus operandi of reclaiming only UNUSED land and buildings), and saw no evidence to the contrary before being assaulted by the cops on the roof. When all one has done is enter a building, quietly climb a staircase in an orderly fashion, and assist in a rooftop banner drop, without seeing ANYBODY inside other than fellow protestors and media photographers, then from whence arises the ‘disorderly conduct’ and intent to cause ‘alarm, harassment, and distress’ that constitute a criminal offence under section 5 of the Public Order Act?
Having sat through the five day trial in the public gallery, I couldn’t help feeling a wee bit of sympathy for the devil – namely Mr Shorter, the sole representative of the prosecution “team”, barrister for the CPS, and fall guy for an unprovable case. His ‘case for the prosecution’ only lasted till lunchtime on Day One (including time out to translocate from Court 8 to Court 1), and principally consisted of reading out statements from Panton House office workers, less than half of which seemed bothered or even aware of wha gwan, short of the loud and violent disruption caused by the police to their working day. The CPS took the tactical decision not to have ANY of these ‘alarmed, harassed, and distressed’ witnesses give live evidence from the witness box – presumably because, if and when cross-examined by the six-strong defence barrister team, the fact that none of them actually encountered the peaceful protestor defendants would make the ‘alarmed, harassed, and distressed’ narrative even more implausible than it self-evidently is. Indeed the only prosecution live witness was a cop, who wasn’t even present on the day in question, but was tasked by his boss some time in 2012 to try to match up post-arrest custody suite photos of the defendants taken on 30 Nov 2011 with activist-photojournalist web-published photos of the Panton House action.
A red flare was used to help direct the protestors towards Panton House as they marched down Haymarket – but the bloke wielding it on 30 Nov 2012 was NOT among the Panton House 16. Nevertheless, the cops still tried to fit up one of the defendants as ‘Red Flare Man’, by giving live testimony highlighting for the judge the clothing similarities between the custody suite photos and two online pix, culled from Flickr and Demotix. What neither the judge, nor the barristers, nor the defendants seemed to appreciate, but which is common knowledge and practice among we activist-photojournalists, is that we regularly photo-manipulate pix to reduce their evidentiary value to the CPS to zero, prior to publishing them on the web. This may be obvious – eg: pixellating faces – or too subtle to notice with the unaided eye – eg: changing clothing colours. But without provenience evidence of authenticity – eg: sworn statements from the named activist-photojournalists, or computer photo-manipulation forensics authenticity evidence – no web-published post-action photo should be admitted as valid hearsay evidence: but that’s what the judge did anyway. I pointed this out in writing to the barrister representing the defendant whom the cops were trying to fit up (and volunteered to testify if necessary), but he didn’t even need to use it: he read out two sworn statements made by a pair of cops who WERE present on the day, which unequivocally identified ANOTHER bloke as ‘Red Flare Man’, flatly contradicting the live testimony of the CPS’s only live witness, and leading directly to a Not Guilty verdict.
POSITIVELY GOOD CHARACTERS
After each of the Panton House 16 gave sworn testimony from the witness box as to their innocence regarding the preposterous charges laid against them, Mr Shorter for the CPS desperately flailed around, trying to paint a picture of hate-fuelled, alarm-causing, distress-provoking, harassment-inflicting, conspiratorial outside agitators, hell-bent on disrupting the hum-drum monotony of a business-as-usual day at the office for the Panton House workers – and utterly failing to do so at every turn. On minute it’s the rowdiness of the London Mob on the staircase that’s causing outright panic behind the closed office doors, the next they’re sneaking up in a stealthy conspiratorial silence – but as the defence team’s barristers pointed out in closing arguments, these narratives are mutually exclusive. Then there’s a conspiracy to custom-build a banner for the Panton House roofscape in advance – but unfortunately for the CPS, the “ALL POWER TO THE 99%” banner is the polar antithesis of a rooftop banner drop design (a fact which I also highlighted in writing for the defence team’s barristers, and which they brought to the court’s attention through the evidence-in-chief of Prof. Chris Knight, who has commissioned more banner production over the decades than the judge has had posh nosh hot dinners).
After the laughably weak CPS cross-examination of each defendant, their defence barrister read out highlights of character witness statements submitted on their behalf by folk who know them well. This is almost always the most enlightening and spirit-raising part of any vindictive political trial – where those present get just a glimpse of what fine, upstanding, admirable, and loveable people our comrades-in-protest really are. My admiration and esteem for the defendants, only two of which I know personally, was massively boosted by just the portions of their character witness statements their briefs chose to read out, such that there wasn’t a one among them I’m not proud to call my comrade: good eggs, the lot of them. Indeed, the defence team’s closing arguments drew the judge’s attention to the outstanding nature of the defendants, as attested by their character witness statements – folk who are active trade unionists, a first aider, a legal observer, a carer for a relative and a family friend, a medical research doctor, a human rights worker; in short, POSITIVELY GOOD CHARACTERS!
CPS: WHY YOU FAIL SOOOOO BADLY
In common with a direct action criminal trial in which I was one of a whole bunch of defendants, the option to go for trail-by-jury in the Crown Court was not an option – by design. A criminal conviction can easily be a personal disaster – eg: one defendant, a medical research doctor, was facing career jeopardy from a General Medical Council conduct investigation. But the state deigns that such charges, commonly brought against people of POSITIVELY GOOD CHARACTER acting to make the world a better place (and therefore likely to elicit public sympathy), are Not Serious Enough to warrant the added expense (to the capitalist class) of a jury trial in the Crown Court. Since suppressing dissent is actually the name of the game, a trial in front of a single member of the boss class legal establishment – in this case a District Judge, sitting alone – is waaaay more likely to secure the result the capitalists are after: any serious disruption to our business-as-usual profiteering bags you a criminal conviction.
But to give her credit where credit’s due, District Judge Elizabeth Roscoe (despite the class urge to convict, and to her obvious frustration), just could not find any of the defendants guilty of any of the charges laid against them by the cops and the CPS. In her judgement, she pointed out that the Crown must prove, to the criminal standard, ALL THREE of the following:
1. Disorderly Behaviour
Despite all the evidence that all the defendants conducted themselves inside and on the roof of Panton House in a dignified, quiet, peaceful, and above all ORDERLY manner (without any evidence to the contrary being adduced by the CPS), Roscoe still said that entering and traversing a functioning office building, even if doing so through circulation space which excludes any encounter whatsoever with the building’s occupants, IS disorderly in and of itself. <cough-bullshit-cough>
2. Being Disorderly Within Sight or Hearing of Victims
Since none of the accused even saw the office workers on whose statements of ‘alarm, harassment, and distress’ the CPS case against them so depended, Roscoe had to jump through conceptual legal hoops to try to make any of this stick, and I honestly can’t recall which way she judged this criteria, because…
3. Intent or Awareness that Behaviour IS Disorderly
…this is what the CPS definitely failed to prove: what the elder defence barristers (and me) know as ‘mens rea’  and the younger barristers referred to as ‘the mental element’. In Roscoe’s mind, going “mob handed” into a functioning and occupied office building IS disorderly – but as all the defendants testified, with extremely credible sincerity, they believed Panton House to be non-functioning and unoccupied, and saw no evidence during their brief sojourn inside to disavow them of that reasonable working hypothesis. Not only did none of them have any intent whatsoever to cause ‘alarm, harassment, and distress’ through mass disorderly conduct (and to do so would be entirely out-of-character), but several testified that had they become aware that Panton House was indeed a functioning and occupied office building, then they would have exited immediately of their own volition, predicated on their conscientious desire to AVOID disrupting the working lives of the folk who work there.
Since all three criteria must be proved by the CPS, and this they had singularly failed to do, Roscoe was bound to find the lot of them Not Guilty. But she STILL tried to take her frustrations out on the innocent ex-defendants, in two ways: binding over everyone, and persecuting one fella for poor punctuality.
THROWING THE TOYS OUT OF THE PRAM
Under the Justices of the Peace Act 1361 (yes, that’s legislation that is 6.5 centuries old!), magistrates can attempt to impose a ‘binding over to keep the peace’ order, but…
“Binding over is a precautionary measure to be adopted when there are reasonable grounds to anticipate some present or future danger. It is not a conviction or a punishment. It should not be used for an act which is past and which is not likely to be repeated. It should not be used as an alternative measure for dealing with cases in which the prosecution has insufficient evidence to substantiate a charge.”
~ from ‘Binding over’, by Wikiedians
So although Roscoe attempted to impose bind overs en masse, legal arguments from the barristers of the defence team against doing so proved to be too compelling, and she was forced to tell all but one of the defendants, “You are free to leave”.
One poor bloke was a wee bit late to arrive on days four and five, and after issuing humiliating insults to his intelligence and common sense, she fined him £50. And that bit of spiteful retribution was all the satisfaction the boss class legal superstructure could possibly reap from this sorry ass affair.
CELEBRATE GOOD TIMES, COME ON!
As you can see on the faces of the ex-defendants in the photos above, jubilation was the order of business on leaving the Westminster Magistrates Court building as free women and men, not only without a stain on their character, but as people whose POSITIVELY GOOD CHARACTERS had been celebrated in open court. Our victory celebrations continued well in to the afternoon in a local pub, and many congratulatory hugs were shared.
Great credit goes to the defence legal team, and in particular solicitors…
» Bindmans LLP – http://www.bindmans.com
…and the barristers they instructed from…
» Doughty Street Chambers – http://www.doughtystreet.co.uk
» David Rhodes – http://www.doughtystreet.co.uk/barristers/david_rhodes.cfm
» Ben Newton – http://www.doughtystreet.co.uk/barristers/benjamin_newton.cfm
» Tom Stevens – http://www.doughtystreet.co.uk/barristers/tom_stevens.cfm
Sorry to say, I don’t have the details of the other defence team barristers, or the solicitors who instructed them, but needless to say that they too deserve an equal share of the credit for securing the best of all possible outcomes. And if you, dear reader, have these missing details, do please post them as an bigging-up addition below.
• Occupy Protestors Not Guilty
A CAUTIONARY TALE
In closing arguments, the defence team barristers referred to the bitterness expressed by two of the defendants in their testimony at the way the OccupyLSX folk who planned this direct action had betrayed the trust placed in them, by exposing grass roots protestors to the danger of arrest and criminal conviction without their knowledge or consent. This issue arose on many occasions in discussions around this case among the defendants and their public gallery supporters, with the emergent consensus being that the whole court case arose from a serious tactical and ethical blunder.
When a spiky direct action is being planned, it is the ethical responsibility of those doing the planning to alert folk in advance as to which components of the actions carry the risk of arrest and prosecution. In nearly all cases, people who want to be direct participants in helping ensure the direct action succeeds can then exercise prior informed consent as to whether…
- they will place their freedom in jeopardy as part of the ‘arrestable cohort’ (by potentially committing an arrestable offence, eg: aggravated trespass); or whether...
- they will preserve their liberty by acting as part of the ‘non-arrestable support cohort’ (by not committing any arrestable offences, but still actively supporting the action, eg: by providing medical, legal observer, or stewarding services, post-action prisoner support, etc., &c.)
In the Panton House banner drop action, folk whose decades-long professional career could be ruined by a criminal conviction were invited into Panton House by OccupyLSX activists whom they trusted not to lead them into such jeopardy without due warning. As far as we know, the OccupyLSX activists responsible for placing these grass roots protestors in unwitting danger of arrest and criminal conviction were not in the dock.
We can but hope that lessons will be learned from this blunder, that direct action activists will take careful note, and that they will always act in future with the customary ethical integrity that grounds our movement in bonds of trust and solidarity: no direct action plan shall place participants in unwitting danger of arrest and criminal conviction; only those participants who volunteer by prior informed consent to jeopardise their liberty by potentially committing an arrestable offence shall be enrolled in the ‘arrestable cohort’.
Up the Revolution,
Tim Dalinian Jones
 The Anglo-Swiss planet-rapist multinational corporation Xstrata:
• ‘Xstrata’s Killing Fields’, by Stephanie Boyd, New Internationalist magazine, May 2012
• ‘How do you sleep at night, Mr Davis?’, by Stephanie Boyd, New Internationalist blog, 01 Jun 2012
 The notoriously violent Territorial Support Group:
“As the result of a freedom of information request made by The Guardian newspaper, it was revealed that more than 5,000 complaints were made against the TSG in 4 years but only 9 have been upheld. Commenting on these figures, a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority stated that officers in the TSG are "practically immune" from criticism. One ex-Metropolitan Police officer suggested that TSG members, "spend (their) days waiting for action, and far too many officers join seeking excitement and physical confrontation." Some officers are ex-military personnel and these are "the worst bullies" as "the laws of the battlefield are not appropriate to the streets of our capital". The forerunner of the group, the Special Patrol Group, was implicated in the death of Blair Peach.
During the 2009 G-20 London summit protests two officers of the TSG were suspended from duty following publication of videos which recorded alleged assaults on members of the public at the 2009 G-20 London summit protests and at a subsequent memorial. In the first case, the member of the public, Ian Tomlinson, died shortly afterwards. In the second case, Sgt Delroy (Tony) Smellie was seen hitting Nicola Fisher. Following her complaint, the Crown Prosecution Service announced in September 2009, that there was sufficient evidence to charge Sgt Smellie with assault. He appeared in court on November 16, 2009 and was cleared of assault charges on the 31st of March 2010 at City of Westminster Magistrates' Court. However, he could still face misconduct proceedings over the incident. Video evidence shows that the officer seen hitting Ian Tomlinson had his face covered and that the officers involved in both cases were not displaying their identification numbers. Following the investigation into police handling of the protest, the human rights group Liberty called for further study of what it referred to as the "militaristic approach" used by the TSG.”
~ from ‘Territorial Support Group – Criticism’, by Wikipedians
 A police caution:
“A police caution is a formal alternative to prosecution in minor cases, administered by the police and other law enforcement agencies in England and Wales. It is commonly used to resolve cases where full prosecution is not seen as the most appropriate solution. A police caution (more properly known as a simple caution) is given by the police and is a non-statutory disposal for adult offenders.
The purposes of a formal police caution are:
• to deal quickly and simply with less serious offenders;
• to divert them from unnecessary appearance in the criminal courts; and
• to reduce the chances of their re-offending.”
~ from ‘Police Caution’, by Wikipedians
 ‘Mens rea’:
“Mens rea is Latin for "guilty mind". In criminal law, it is viewed as one of the necessary elements of a crime. The standard common law test of criminal liability is usually expressed in the Latin phrase, actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea, which means "the act does not make a person guilty unless the mind is also guilty". Thus, in jurisdictions with due process, there must be an actus reus accompanied by some level of mens rea to constitute the crime with which the defendant is charged (see the technical requirement of concurrence). As a general rule, criminal liability does not attach to a person who acted with the absence of mental fault.”
~ from ‘Mens rea’, by Wikipedians
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