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Blair's Britain 2005 - where peaceful protest can be costly

Independent, UK

December 9, 2005

Arrested over demonstration at arms fair

The cases of Pennie Quinton and Kevin Gillan are due before the House of Lords next month as civil rights campaigners attempt to show that anti-terrorism laws to stop and search are being used unlawfully. Mr Gillan, 28, a postgraduate student from Sheffield, and Ms Quinton, 34, a freelance photo-journalist, were among about 140 people arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 at an arms fair at the Excel Centre in east London in 2003.

Lawyers for Liberty argued that the "draconian" powers were being used in a way that was never intended by Parliament and that they had unlawfully deterred members of the public from demonstrating peacefully. The Court of Appeal gave the police the benefit of the doubt.

Convicted over anti-corporate stunt

The self-styled George Fox Six burst into a lecture theatre at Lancaster University in September last year to protest at a corporate conference. They picked a conference attended by executives from BAE Systems, DuPont, GlaxoSmithKline and Shell to highlight what they believed were malign relationships between academic research and business.

In response to the protest, their own university insisted on pressing charges for aggravated trespass.

In October the six - two undergraduates, two postgraduates, a former student and a student from an affiliated college - were found guilty at Lancaster magistrates' court. A district judge gave each a conditional discharge and ordered them to pay £300 costs.

Detained for throwing a tea party

It started as a joke for Mark Barrett, a tour guide, and a few other protesters. Angered at the planned exclusion zone for unauthorised demonstrations around Parlia- ment Square, he went to aprotest in August.

He said: "There were various people there with placards. I said, 'Let's go and throw tea into the Thames as they did at the Boston Tea Party.' We had a bit of a laugh. Now we have a tea party protest every Sunday."

Thus was born the People of the Commons Picknickers, angered by Section 132 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005.

Mr Barrett, 36, and 20 other activists were arrested. He is due in court next month. "The law is about the attempt to marginalise people's points of view," he said. "It is anti-democratic and an abuse of power."

Apprehended for 'offensive' T-shirt

John Catt, an 80-year-old peace campaigner, was stopped by police officers as a terrorist suspect in Brighton in September - for wearing a T-shirt with anti-Blair and Bush slogans.

Mr Catt, who served in the RAF during the Second World War, was stopped, searched by police and made to sign a form confirming he had been interviewed under the 2000 Terrorism Act.

The official record of the encounter confirms that the "purpose" of the search was "terrorism" and the "grounds for intervention" were "carrying plackard and T-shirt with anti-Blair info" (sic).

Mr Catt was offered a caution by police, but refused and plans to plead not guilty at a trial due to start in January. He had travelled into Brighton from his home in Withdean, on the outskirts of the city.

"I said I was going to voice my opposition to the Iraq War. He [the policeman] said: 'We're going to give you a copy of this form.'

"People should have the right to protest non-violently. The anti-terrorism laws should not be used to stop people doing that."

Threatened with jail for Iraq protest

Douglas Barker has adopted a new approach to resistance to the war, by withholding 10 per cent of his income tax in protest at Britain's involvement.

The former RAF serviceman, who is 72, owns a 200-acre estate in Wiltshire and describes himself as a lifelong socialist who was a firm supporter of Tony Blair until the war. On Wednesday, he was threatened with jail if he continued to refuse to pay the £1,142.58 the Inland Revenue says he owes. When completing his tax return for the second half of this year, Mr Barker, 72, estimated that 10 per cent of all government expenditure went on the military. He said: "I came to the conclusion that by paying this, I was violating my conscience, because I felt it would have been used illegally to kill people in a sovereign state.

"If I have to go to jail, I will go to jail."

Held for shouting 'nonsense' at Jack Straw

Walter Wolfgang, 82, a Labour party member for 57 years, became a cause célèbre after he was bundled out of the Labour Party conference hall in Brighton in September.

His offence was to shout "nonsense" as Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, defended Britain's role in Iraq.

He was later stopped under anti-terrorist powers as he tried to re-enter the hall. The heavy-handed treatment of Mr Wolfgang revived criticism of the "control freakery" associated with Labour.

Mr Wolfgang fled Nazi Germany as a teenager for Britain. He said: "I shouted out 'nonsense'. That's all I said. Then these two toughies came round and wanted to manhandle me out ... Physically, I am not too well, so I said I would follow them."

The over-reaction by conference stewards backfired and turned into a public relations disaster for the party. The anti-terror law used to stop Mr Wolfgang was Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. It is supposed to be deployed against suspected terrorists, not protesters.

Convicted for reading the names of 97 war dead

Maya Evans, 25, this week became the first person to be convicted under the new laws banning demonstrations near Parliament. She was given a conditional discharge and ordered to pay £100 in costs after being found guilty of breaching Section 132 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. Her "serious" crime was to stand by the Cenotaph, close to Downing Street, reading aloud the names of the 97 British soldiers who have died in Iraq.

Ms Evans, a part-time vegan chef from Hastings, east Sussex, was considered such a threat that two police sergeants and 12 constables in two minibuses were sent to arrest her.

Following her conviction, which saddles her with a criminal record, she said: "I just think it's a shame that you cannot voice your freedom of speech. It sends out a message that you will be arrested for remembering the dead."

:: Article nr. 18580 sent on 10-dec-2005 03:17 ECT


Link: news.independent.co.uk/uk/legal/article332149.ece

:: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website.

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