The protester who was charged with 'Causing a Public Nuisance' after hanging a banner at Cambridge railway station in the run-up to the George Bush visit in November of last year has been re-arrested and charged under section 5(1)(a) of the Public Order Act 1986.
Since the police dropped the ludicrous Criminal Damage charge against him in early December, the activist has been re-bailed to appear at Parkside Police Station several times while the Crown Prosecution Service struggled to decide how to proceed with the case. On arrival at Parkside today he was surprised to be confronted by the original arresting officer who proceeded to read him his rights and arrest him under the Public Order Act, almost three months after the alleged offense took place.
The allegation on the charge sheet says that on the 11th of November 2003, he "used threatening, abusive or insulting words or behavior or disorderly behavior within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress...". This raises some very interesting questions about freedom of expression as defined in the Human Rights Act 1998. Article 10 states that "Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority...". According to witnesses (supported by video footage from Cambridge IndyMedia) and even the police officers who arrested him, the activist at no time used offensive language and was merely imparting information about forthcoming peaceful demonstrations in Cambridge and London.
As such it seems that his actions were no more likely to cause "harassment, alarm or distress" to the general public than the actions of those who gathered in the Market Square or the 300,000 people who marched against Bush in London the following week.
It has been decided however that the protester should face trail on a charge more commonly used to prosecute people for fighting outside Pubs. Despite the fact that a Guilty verdict from the Magistrates would leave him with a criminal record, it is unlikely that legal aid will be provided. This will leave 'The Man on the Bridge' with the option of defending himself of facing a legal bill of 500 to 1000 pounds.
The first hearing of the case will take place at Cambridge Magistrates Court from 9:30 on Thursday this week (5th February).