On 28th March 2009 a number of people travelled to Welling in south-east London to protest against a Blood and Honour gig at the Duchess of Edinburgh Pub. On their way back there was a fight between some of the protestors and fascists on the platform of Welling train station. This led to 23 people being arrested in total, and 22 charged with conspiracy to commit Violent Disorder. This was too many to fit into one court room so the case split in two, with the first 11 people going on trial on 6th June. Just in case you’re wondering whether there were any problems having fascists and anti-fascists on trial together, don’t worry! None of the fascists were arrested or charged.
On Tuesday 28th June, on the 17th day of the trial and after 13 hours of deliberation, the Jury returned verdicts. Four people were convicted by eleven-to-one majority and three by ten-to-two. Four were sentenced immediately to 21 months, three are awaiting reports, two are on remand and one is on bail and will be sentenced in August.
Four people have been acquitted and we wish them all the best in suing the police which they mightily deserve not only for having the worry of a court case hanging over them for over two years but also in one case being unable to work as a nurse because of comments by police on his criminal record check.
The second trial will start on 12th September. Obviously this means we cannot comment in detail on the evidence or the consequences for anti-fascist protests and the wider issue of conspiracy just yet.
Francis Fernie was jailed for 12 months at Kingston Crown Court for Violent Disorder on the 7th July. He is only the second person to be sentenced for section 2 of the public order act out of over 30 charged from the student protests and March 26th demo.
When Edward Woolard was sentenced to 32 Months on 11th January for dropping a fire extinguisher from the roof of Millbank, we warned (Freedom issue 7202, 29th January, page 11, ’32 reasons not to plead guilty’) that a guilty plea would not enable people to avoid imprisonment for violent disorder however trivial the circumstances. francis threw two sticks on the 26th March causing no damage or injury. When his photo was put out he handed himself in and made a full confession in interview. He had no previous convictions and, having just finished his A-levels, was working with learning impaired adults prior to taking up a place at university this autumn. Judge Nicholas Price noted all this and said he was giving a much lighter sentence than he was originally thinking of, but quoted Lord Justice Thomas in the case of Alhaddad (appeals against sentences from the Gaza demonstrations in 2008/9). He said “In our judgement, anybody who engages in violence of this kind must go into custody. They cannot be dealt with by community sentences. The protection of the public and of the police demands that the serious offence of violent disorder on this scale, to which each pleaded guilty, is marked by a custodial sentence. The length of custodial sentences will, of course, depend upon a clear and close analysis of the events in question and the activity and circumstances of each defendant. As we have endeavoured to set out in this case, political motivation can play no part.”From this we think that the ‘starting point’ for Millbank, 9th December and 26th March will be similar to the Gaza 10th January 2009 demonstration i.e two years three months for prisoners who came to protest peacefully but were ‘caught up’ in the events of the day.
Rhys Gray received a eight week curfew on a tag and has to pay £2,400 compensation for criminal damage to a set of traffic lights and a window in Parliament Square on 9th December.
Of the 34 people who were arrested on the London demonstration of 30th June, 18 have been charged with various offences. Good luck to all of them. Possessing items with intent to cause criminal damage is potentially a very serious charge carrying a 10 year maximum, but we don’t think the art student allegedly with a paint filled water pistol should be packing her toothbrush just yet.
All currently held at HMP Wormwood Scrubs, PO Box 757, Du Cane Road, London W12 0AE.
-Andy Baker A5768CE
-Thomas Blak A5728CE
-Sean Cregan A5769CE
-Phil De Souza A5766CE
-Ravinder Gill A5770CE
-Austin Jackson A5729CE
LDMG in Freedom Magazine
The position for anyone convicted of a public order offence (and we use the term widely here) for taking part in protests is very different. Take the recent case of Edward Woollard, the 18-year-old who threw a fire extinguisher from the roof of the Conservative Party’s Millbank headquarters in London during the student protest on November 10th last year. He is now serving a sentence of 32 months (2 years 8 months) having followed this standard legal advice.
He was convicted of violent disorder, for which the maximum term is 5 years. The Crown Prosecution Service sentencing guidance gives examples of sentences:
- R v Chapman (2002) 146 SJ
C took part in street riot over a number of hours. Threw stones at Police and re-armed himself in order to continue. 3 years in YOI on Guilty plea.
-R v Hebron and Spencer 11 Cr. App. R (S) 226
Both under 21 and took part in N.Y. Eve riot.
H threw bottles at Police. S shook fists and shouted “Kill the Bill”.
10 and 12 months respectively was an appropriate sentence.
-R v Watson & others (1990) 12 Cr App R (S) 477
Retaliatory violence. W with others, broke into premises, caused damage. Attacked innocent persons. Good character. 18 months prison.
Now consider Edward’s case. He was of good character, had numerous fine references from people who support him, was young, caught up in the moment and pleaded guilty at the first opportunity. There were no adverse factors, no evidence of pre-planning etc. The sentencing judge, Geoffrey Rivlin QC of course had to pay lip service to the one third reduction. He did so by taking the starting point for the sentence as 4 years. This was for throwing an empty fire extinguisher, which didn’t hit anyone. Compare and contrast with the examples given above. And then of course no discount was given for the other mitigating factors.
In sentencing Edward, Rivlin QC described it as a deterrent sentence, but stressed that “this is not a case of making an example of you alone” and that “anyone who behaves in this way and comes before the Court must expect a long sentence of custody”. Writing in the Guardian, Debra Orr (no friend of revolutionaries) was more blunt, stating that the judge was wrong in his sentencing of Edward Woollard, “a disproportionate punishment to discourage others is unfair”.
So what is the advantage of delay, even where the evidence is against you? Well the CPS may mess up the prosecution (defence lawyers don’t call them “Can’t Prosecute Shit” for nothing); an undercover cop may be exposed; or the glare of publicity will die down and the desire to make an example out of you will fade. At worst you are unlikely to get a harsher sentence.
Legal Defence and Monitoring Group 17/1/11
Read the Judge’s full sentencing remarks here:
Debra Orr’s comment piece is here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jan/13/judge-wrong-in-sentencing-edward-woollard?INTCMP=SRCH
The CPS sentencing guidance is here: http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/s_to_u/sentencing_manual/violent_disorder/