Fortnum and Mason trial B: the farce rolls on
Westminster Magistrates Court, 12 March, 2012: Fortnum and Mason trial B. You can read my write up of ‘trial A’ from November.
By the time I arrived at the Westminster Magistrates Court this morning, the judge had finally worked out what the charge before him was. Which helps move things along, I suppose. I am told that on Friday – the end of the first week of the case – he had looked confused and asked why everyone kept talking about intimidation.
The lawyers patiently explained that the charge he was supposed to be judging was ‘intent to intimidate’. Perhaps intimidation might be relevant to this?
He rustled through his papers, and finally found the charge sheet he was supposed to have been deciding on for the previous few days. ‘I see’ he said.
The prosecution too had finally worked out who they were charging. 145 people were arrested at Fortnum and Mason a year ago. But charges were dropped against most. The 30 of us remaining were split into three groups – no court would be big enough to hold us all. We were told that we had to be made an example of because we were special cases. I was in group A – those who were thought to be organisers, or to have ‘activist’ previous.
Now is the turn of group B. Most of them were chosen, notoriously, because they had leaflets on them. Specifically, they had to have been carrying more than 20 UK Uncut leaflets to qualify. Last week, one of the defendants from this group had a spontaneous defence against their charges. The defence team pointed to her bundle, as presented in court. It included a theatre ticket, some other flyers, and not the requisite 20, but only 16 UK Uncut leaflets. For want of 4 flyers, her charges were dropped on the spot and she walked free.
But that was week one of the trial. This is week two. The judge has managed to work out what ‘crime’ he is judging. The prosecution have worked out who they are prosecuting. Welcome to the English justice system.
I was in court for the morning. In trial A, we defendants had opted not to give evidence – the prosecution witnesses had established that we were ‘sensible and non-violent’. We had little to add. Trial B had taken a different track – we are already appealing to the High Court on a matter of law, so there’s no point in them doing the same. They may as well make their case in the dock. And that’s what I watched.
As you may expect, each was articulate – young women and men who had excelled academically, whose character witnesses wrote of kindness, intelligence, integrity and a sense of justice. The prosecution pushed them to condemn things they claimed had happened in the shop which none of them had seen. Each talked of how our protest was fun, lively and creative – but never intending to intimidate. At one point, the Crown’s lawyer described how one person is said to have run into the restaurant at the back of the store, and shouted the words ‘posh, posh, posh’ at those who ate there. With all seriousness, his question to the defendant about this incident was ‘Can you think of anything worse?’. ‘yes’ she replied ‘I can think of things in the world that are worse than that’.
As with trial A, there was minimal evidence presented against most of the individuals on trial. Perhaps the most serious accusation was that one had, after a few hours locked in the shop, pushed another around a portion of the shop in a trolley. “what were you doing” she was asked. “Well, in the shop there is a large tea tray” she explained. “I suppose I was giving her a tour around the tea tray”. Even the judge accepted this was, as he put it, ‘japes’.
Bizarrely, Mologne, the aggressive prosecution barrister, demanded that each of the defendants condemn various of the chats he alleges were used in the shop: “people were chanting anti-monarchist chants. Do you condemn that?”. It wasn’t clear why that was relevant to the case.
Otherwise, in order to prove the charge, he relied largely on the testimony of the only member of Fortnum and Mason staff to have said in court that she had been intimidated. But he was relying not on evidence from this trial, but on things she had said in trial A, when I was in the dock. When she stood in front of us she had given a detailed account of how people had pointed at her, and shouted abuse at her. Our lawyers had gently taken her through the CCTV footage of the time, which showed that her memory had tricked her, that this incident hadn’t taken place. By trial B, she took back much of what she had said. She – the key witness aginst us in trial one – effectively confessed in trial two that she had misremembered the moment. And yet again and again the prosecution returned to her statement from our trial – the statement the CCTV had discredited, which she had now effectively withdrawn. Yet Monogne asked one defendant if she would write an article apologising to the shop assistant for this imagined behaviour. It seems a recanted mis-remembering is the best case he has that anyone was intimidated in a trial about ‘intent to intimidate’.
He also spent significant time on something else. His role was to establish whether the defendants had committed the crime they were accused of. But, with an intelligence officer sitting behind him, he dedicated much of his time to trying to establish who the organisers of the protest and of UK Uncut are. I am told that on Friday, he read through a list of names, asking defendants if they knew each of those who appeared on it. As those on the list were not on trial, this had nothing to do with the role of a court, and everything to do with using the fact that someone is under oath to interrogate them on behalf of the police. How swiftly the fiction that there is a separation between the CPS and the police evaporates. Those of us on this hit list should be aware that prosecutors are abusing their powers in court to come after us.
Despite the farce, the judge will find them guilty. If anyone imagined a solemn justice, sitting in silence, think again. Like the prosecution, he sighed, mocked and bullied the nervous yet articulate defendants. He had already implied to the defence that it wasn’t worth their while presenting witnesses – that he had made up his mind before hearing all the evidence. It seems he almost certainly had. Fans of postmodernism will appreciate the chronology of this trial – first, the judge chose a verdict – guilty. Then, he established with the prosecution who was to be found guilty. Finally, he worked out what they were guilty of.
I’ve written before about how funny these trials are: how district judges who haven’t bothered to read the papers for their cases sit with no jury and are informed by lawyers with minimal grasp of events. And the farce is fun. But I know defendants who, if found guilty, will never be allowed to enter the caring careers to which they aspire – with a criminal record for intimidation, doors slam in your face. And so whilst we should laugh at these clowns, we must remember that their ‘japes’ ruin lives, and that their seemingly arbitrory decisions always seem to side with those in power.
The trial will wrap up tomorrow, though the almost inevitable guilty verdict must surely be appealed – this time to the Crown Court. So I doubt it’s over yet.