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The state gets heavy - part 1

Tom Holness reports on political prosecutions for handing out leaflets.

On 26th March, I was arrested outside Fortnum and Mason's in London, following a sit in in protest at the £25bn of tax avoided by large companies and wealthy individuals every year - money that could be used to reduce the deficit rather than cutting services and stagnating growth. Fortnum and Mason's parent company, Whittington Investments, avoids nearly £10m in tax every year, in a scheme that involves lending money to a Swiss subsidiary, which lends it on to other companies in the group at higher rates of interest, shifting profits to Switzerland using an operation that exists only to process the loan.

I was one of 145 arrested, 138 of whom were charged. Five youth defendants had their cases dropped, and then 109 adult defendants charges, including mine, were also dropped on 27 th July. The CPS dropped these because it was not considered to be in the public interest to continue prosecution. The 30 remaining defendants' cases continue on because of the belief of the CPS that carrying a small number of leaflets, speaking on a megaphone or carrying an umbrella shows that people where part of the organisation of the event.

For the one person I know whose case continues the reason is a previous conviction for aggravated trespass. I can safely say that he was not involved in the organisation of the protest and had as little idea as I did as to where we were going. The police and CPS seem to be unable to understand the idea that people coming together for a common purpose can be organised without having leaders or organisers.

In dropping the case there was the threat from the CPS that if we were arrested in future, we would no longer have the defence of being a first time offender, despite the fact that we have never been convicted of a crime (so if we are arrested again, and there is a similar situation to the above, our cases would be continued like those who have a previous conviction even though we have never been found guilty in a court). This is a continuation of the political nature of these prosecutions.

The people whose prosecutions continue - charges brought on ‘sensible and non-violent protesters' for “intelligence gathering purposes” - have not had cases dropped to continue to dissuade them from taking action, those of us whose cases have been dropped are threatened in the letter from the CPS confirming the discontinuation of our cases.

At the same time we see long sentences being handed down to Frank Fernie - jailed for 12months, for a first , after handing himself in and pleading guilty. On March 26th, having been kettled and attacked by police outside Fortnum and Mason, Frank retaliated throwing two placard sticks - sticks which are designed to be unusable as a weapon - at armoured riot police. Meanwhile, Charlie Gilmour, having also handed himself in and pleaded guilty, received 16 months for attacking the procession of cars containing Prince Charles and Camilla, causing no harm to any person, though much offence for swinging on the flag at the Cenotaph - something he was not charged for.

With so many places across the UK, including my home city of Birmingham, having seen disorder on a scale not seen for 25 years in the UK, hopefully the editors of those papers which called our sit down protest a riot will understand what a riot actually looks like, the CPS and police will reconsider what kinds of offences are actually worth arresting, charging and prosecuting people for and the judiciary will stop handing down politically motivated sentences for minor crimes. Unfortunately, the many sentences given for offences committed during the riots looks likepolitical sentencing continues, with attempts to create a deterrent. This will create further alienation and deepen problems.