OCCUPY DEMOCRACY CHARGES DISMISSED IN COURT

 
  • 12 peaceful protesters have charges dropped in first two trials.
  • Judge rules tarpaulin not a structure designed or adapted for sleeping.
  • £1,945,279 spent in policing operation between mid-October and mid-February.
  • Police criticised for labelling Occupy Movement ‘Domestic Extremists.’
  • Judicial Review against Mayor’s decision to close Parliament Square Gardens in run-up to election continues.

 

Charges against 12 Occupy Democracy [1] protesters were dropped yesterday in the first two trials relating to the peaceful pro-democracy group’s occupation of Parliament Square in October 2014. Charges included refusing to comply with a direction to leave and for being in possession of a prohibited article, namely tarpaulin. A further trial relating to charges of aggravated trespass was dropped previously.

 

From the 17th October 2014 Occupy Democracy held a ten-day occupation outside the Houses of Parliament to highlight the deficit in our democracy. During that time protesters faced increasingly oppressive and violent tactics from the Metropolitan Police aiming to suppress the protest. These tactics included kettling, intimidation, confiscation of property, inflicting pain through use of pressure points and pulling protesters across the ground.[2]

 

The police arrested around 20 Occupy Democracy protesters on the morning of Tuesday 21st October for refusing to move from the tarpaulin sheets they were sitting on and which the police were violently trying to confiscate. The police claimed tarpaulin was classed as sleeping equipment and therefore against the by-laws covering the area of the Square. Even Baroness Jenny Jones got caught up in this frenzy of arrests – being arrested and then swiftly “de-arrested”.[3]

 

Footage of some of the arrests can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W77mnfAM2uk#t=908

 

The Police Reform & Social Responsibility Act 2011 classifies as prohibited any structure that is designed, or adapted, (solely or mainly) for the purpose of facilitating sleeping or staying in a place for any period [4] [5].

 

Speaking following the judgement, legal advisor Matthew Varnham said:

 

“It is reassuring that the District Judge took a common sense approach when finding those who refused to leave Parliament Square – a critically important space for Protest – had done nothing wrong.”

 

The charge was that a tarpaulin had been adapted for the purpose of sleeping or staying in place for a period of time. The Judge accepted that tarpaulin, used to make protesters more comfortable during their time-limited protest, wasn’t a prohibited item calling into question the logic of prosecutions against many others arrested during the Occupy Democracy protests. Consequently the Crown Prosecution Service decided to drop a further 8 cases, due to be held over the coming weeks.

 

This judgement calls into question the actions and motivation of London Mayor Boris Johnson, the Metropolitan Police and the Crown Prosecution Service. The GLA revealed that policing costs between mid-October and mid-February were £1,945,279. [6] Occupy Democracy protested for 17 days during this time, making the average cost of policing £112,000 a day. Based on the basic officer salary of £19,386 for working 233 days per year this means, per day, policing the Square could have paid for 1,354 police officers.

 

Varnham added:

 

“The CPS decision to prosecute in this case goes against their own guidelines which states that peaceful protesters should not be prosecuted. [7] This raises serious questions of whether prosecutions were so doggedly pursued in order to justify the Mayor’s decision to close the Square, which is itself subject to Judicial Review proceedings [8].

 

“This unlawful clampdown of peaceful protest and gross waste of public money is unjustifable, with the bill set to increase if those whose cases have been dismissed pursue the Police in civil actions for unlawful arrest.” 

 

The Judgement coincides with a blow to the City of London Police who, following an FOI request by The Guardian, [9] were found to categorise the Occupy Movement at “Domestic Extremists.” The justice and equality movement were pictured on a slide alongside the 7/7 terrorist attacks. [10]

 

Jamie Kelsey-Fry, a supporter of Occupy London, said: “If you were to measure the power in an idea by the extent to which it is suppressed, then Occupy were articulating something profound.”

 

Notes:
[1] Occupy Democracy was formed in March 2014 as a working group of Occupy London. We are a social movement for democracy free from corporate influence that works for people and planet. Working by consensus decision-making, we have a safer spaces policy and are dedicated to non-violence. Our six core demands can be read here: http://occupydemocracy.org.uk/2014/10/28/occupy-democracy-current-demands-list/

 

Occupy Democracy’s actions have attracted thousands of people including prominent figures such as Russell Brand, Ken Loach, Vivienne Westwood and Jolyon Rubinstein; politicians such as Caroline Lucas MP, John McDonnell MP, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, Baroness Jenny Jones and Michael Meacher MP; and representatives of dozens of civil society organisations who, in turn represent millions of people yet have little voice in our democracy, including: Friends of the Earth, UK Uncut, World Development Movement, War on Want, Fuel Poverty Action and numerous others.

 

[2] The police were acting under instruction of Heritage Wardens, defacto private security in turn instructed by the Greater London Authority.

 

 

 

[5] The Parliament Square bye-laws authorises Park Wardens to compel those they reasonably believe are engaging in prohibited activity to provide their details, where failure to do this can result in arrest. See Sections 3, 5 and 9 https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/Parliament-Square-Garden-Byelaws-25Jan2012.pdf

 

[6] Cost analysis of policing Parliament Square
Question No: 2015/0830
Jenny Jones
Thank you for your answer to my questions 2015/0055 and2015/0497. In your response to my original question 2015/0055 you state “Providing accurate costs for a large number of policing operations is a complex activity requiring significant work by accountants. At this time, cost analysis is unavailable.” Will you release the cost analysis once it has been undertaken?
Written response from the Mayor
The total estimated cost to the MPS of policing the Parliament Square Demonstrations from mid-October to mid-February is £1,945,279 of which £1,588,316 are opportunity costs.
The additional cost relates to overtime, £327,567 and equipment, transport and catering costs, £29,395.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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