Why I put myself back in the dock over Fortnum’s
On 26th March, I was arrested, along with 144 other people, for sitting down in Fortnum and Mason, in protest at their tax avoidance scheme, which costs taxpayers nearly £10m per year.
On the 18th July, my case was dropped, along with around 100 others, leaving 30 defendants to be tried (some were never charged, and youth defendants had already had cases dropped in case you are confused about the missing numbers). On Sept 7th, the Fortnum145 defence campaign revealed that 21 of us have decided to revive our case.
In dropping the case, the CPS said that the “no previous participation” would not be considered in future prosecutions – effectively rendering us guilty despite the lack of trial. As it stands, I have not committed any crime; I have not been found guilty by a court of law, and as such I should be considered innocent. My previous participation in anti-cuts action is not a secret, there are plenty of videos of me on youtube, and I have been filmed by police “Forward Intelligence” and “Evidence Gathering” teams on numerous occasions. What I have never had is a criminal conviction – and the lack of criminal conviction is one of the reasons my case was dropped. “No previous participation” is a neat phrase which really means no criminal conviction.
Now that’s an irksome thing, and alone it might not be enough to make me revive my case, but the revival also gives me a way to highlight the injustice that continues in the prosecution of 30 defendants, as well as the broader issue of political prosecutions.
The CPS dropped the case because they say it is not in the public interest to prosecute me for the following reasons:
The public interest factors that the Crown has taken into account in deciding to discontinue the charge or charges are the lack of evidence of pre-meditation; lack of involvement in the planning and organisation of the offence; and that the incident, as far as your clients are concerned appears to be an isolated incident that, to date, has not been repeated.
Despite some or all of these reasons also applying to the 30 other defendants, they continue to waste time and money prosecuting them. I am sure that the other defendant from Birmingham had no idea where we were going, was not involved in organising the protest and has not sat down in Fortnum and Mason’s since then. I would say the same about the other defendants that I know, though with less certainty.
The CPS have picked these 30 people almost arbitrarily. One group of people, those with previous convictions for aggravated trespass, have been chosen simply because they have that previous conviction – even though these convictions are unrelated to anti-cuts action – the 3 in this group I know picked up their convictions as part of climate camp protests – protests which have seen cases collapse because of the involvement of undercover police.
The other groups have been chosen because they have leaflets, banners or umbrellas. The umbrellas sounds particularly ridiculous, but we were led to Fortnum and Mason by people carrying umbrellas so there is some logic to it.
However, the logic fails when you stop to think that those who led us there would likely have been experienced activists, well aware of the dangers of being identified as an organiser (and the potential for conspiracy charges that brings) and I would assume that they will have dropped the umbrellas, possibly never even entered Fortnum and Mason, and will certainly not have walked out with them in their possession.
Does carrying leaflets or banners show pre-meditation, or an involvement with organising an action? It can, but doesn’t necessarily, it’s very easy to go to an action and take leaflets from someone else to hand out.. banners can be pre-painted – someone like me who knew this would be an anti-tax avoidance action could paint a general banner without having any idea what was going to happen – and I saw no banners specific to Fortnum and Mason.
We should never have been arrested, let alone charged. Having been arrested and charged, the CPS should have dropped all the cases when they dropped mine. There is no public interest in continuing these cases against entirely peaceful protestors, especially when it is not clear that any crime has been committed.
The CPS should drop the remaining cases, and enter no evidence against the 21 defendants who have revived their case in solidarity with the 30 left to face trial. This is the only just outcome of this tawdry affair.
What is solidarity if you don’t live it? What are principles if you don’t stand by them?
Let the trolling commence!
#FF @FM145 @UKUncut, all my fellow #FM145 defendants on Twitter and the many, many people who have supported us through this.
I am confused, are you saying your actions didn’t constitute aggravated trespass?
It’s odd because some people have admitted that their actions probably did hamper business at F&M. (which is pretty obvious to me at least)
Would seem odd to try and justify a criminal act to highlight a companies non-illegal activities.
I am all for protest you see, leaflets, banners, placards…however direct action like what is alleged oversteps protest and becomes a more fascist “You’re wrong because you don’t agree with me so I am going to stop you” message. Specifically designed to disrupt people who chose to shop at the store…or bank at the bank..
If you have got to the point where you feel you have the right to decide what people should or shouldn’t do because YOU have decided it, then I believe you have stepped away from being a hero to become a villain.
In future, if you have a point to make, make it and if people agree with you, you will have accomplished your objective. If they don’t agree with you, perhaps you should consider that a rejection of your point by the public.
This is what happens in a democracy, thank Jebus.
I think one’s reaction to this (if you’re on the left and not just a right-wing troll, that is) depends largely on how thoroughly you buy the tactics of Gandhian civil disobedience.
It’s been of interest to me that my reaction to this hasn’t actually been entirely positive. That’s not to say that I don’t respect solidarity and understand the motives behind it, and everything else. It’s just that – well – ultimately, this is just a bunch more people subjecting themselves to the state to be judged and sentenced according to the state’s priorities. Wouldn’t better solidarity be to smirk about the state dropping your cases, and spending the time you *would* have been spending in court/conferences supporting the remaining defendants?
It just doesn’t strike me, on first thought, as the best use of time, resources and energy….