Skip to content or view screen version

14 October - Fairford Coaches case at the Court of Appeal

j | 13.10.2004 17:46 | Anti-militarism | Repression | London

Does the High Court uphold the right to protest in the UK? No, in February the courts ruled that Police can prevent a group from attending a demonstration when no one within the group has committed an offence or is actively threatening to do so.

As the law stands now, there only needs to be a suspicion in the Senior Police officer's mind that someone present in the group would be willing to commit a minor offence (eg- property damage/cutting a hole in a fence). The police don't even need to prove that you had the equipment to commit the offence, just that their intelligence suggests someone would want to commit the offence.

For example, you go on a hire coach to a demo. Some people who also board the coach are from a group that the police like to bully and harrass. Then the police note that some members of the group are present, and claim that some group members have been previously linked to property damage or violent behaviour. This is enough to make it so none of you get to go to the demo.

Sounds all cozy and democratic, eh?

Come and join the coach detainees in a demo outside the Royal Courts of Justice 9am-10am both days (Th-Fr 14-15 October, 2004). Also, come inside from 11am-4pm and watch the wigged justices (including Lord Chief Justice Woolf) and countless barristers decide how to apply the law. But leave your camera at the shop on the opposite side of the street, as the Royal Courts have no camera storage facilities, and they won't let cameras physically into the Courts.

In case you were wondering what people have to say about the case, read the quotes below which can be found at the website-


"If you only see one case this year make it this one!"

"Gloucestershire police must be the envy of the human rights-abusing cop world. From Turkey to Indonesia they will say, 'Kidnapping peace protestors! How did they get away with that one?'" (Zoo Weekly 24-30 Jan 2004)

"Maybe… there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for unlawfully detaining 120 people. Maybe they just got carried away with last year's idea of pre-emptive strikes and thought, 'Let's not wait for an actual crime to occur. Let's get the innocent.'" (Zoo Weekly 24-30 Jan 2004)

"Were British protesters, armed with little more than a frisbee and a bag of plastic toy soldiers, really in danger of being shot by the US military in Gloucestershire?" (New Statesman, Monday 1st March 2004 - "Mark Thomas wonders why the police fear frisbees")

"In the circumstances, you have to admire the protesters' restraint." (New Statesman, Monday 1st March 2004 - "Mark Thomas wonders why the police fear frisbees")

"One can only guess the amount of magic mushrooms a sane person would have to consume to believe that a frisbee constituted a genuine threat to roughly 3,000 police officers." (New Statesman, Monday 1st March 2004 - "Mark Thomas wonders why the police fear frisbees")

Mark Thomas, Comedian/Writer


"Amnesty International expressed concern about the chilling effect on the rights to freedom of assembly, peaceful protest and expression, insofar as the judgment's finding that preventing the coaches from proceeding to Fairford was lawful, and that, as a result, the police actions had not violated Jane Laporte's right to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression."

Amnesty International, Europe and Central Asia: Summary of Amnesty International's Concerns in the Region, January - June 2004


"The right to peaceful protest is an important foundation of democracy. The actions of Gloucestershire police not only prevented peaceful protesters from exercising their legitimate rights on the day, but will also have a serious chilling effect on the rights of others if allowed to be repeated. Furthermore, the lengthy detention of the protesters was a shocking breach of their right to personal liberty."

Alex Gask, Solicitor for Liberty


"I attended the demonstration at RAF Fairford. It was well attended but peaceful throughout. I can see no reason why those who wished to legitimately demonstrate were not allowed to do so rather than being stopped in transit and I hope that this matter can now be resolved so that free speech and justice remain paramount in the United Kingdom."

David Drew, Labour and Co-operative MP for Stroud


"Stop and search powers under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act (2000) were used 2132 times at RAF Fairford as people demonstrated there in 2003. By contrast during the same period, there were only 56 searches under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act (1994). No one was subsequently arrested or prosecuted as a result of the 2132 searches, which clearly shows that the Terrorism Act was used to harass people protesting against the war on Iraq."

Lynne Jones, Labour MP for Birmingham Selly Oak


"The right to peaceful protest is a cornerstone of democracy and has to be defended whether in Beijing, Diyarbakir, Rangoon or Fairford. Democracy should not have different standards for home and abroad."

Jean Lambert, Green Party MEP for London, England


"The UN Secretary-General has now confirmed what many of us already knew - that the attack on, and occupation of, Iraq was illegal. The right to peaceful protest on the other hand, remains a legal cornerstone of any civilised democracy. This detention of peaceful protestors against an illegal and immoral war is an outrageous abuse of power. The Court of Appeal must ensure that justice is done and that the right to peaceful protest is upheld."

Caroline Lucas, Green Party MEP for South East England


The right to protest is fundamental in a democracy - a right millions choose to exercise in opposition to the war with Iraq.

It is essential that courts uphold this right.

Ken Livingstone - Mayor of London


"There was no need to turn away the coaches from the demo, let alone detain them. I attended the original High Court hearings in January and February where the judges ruled that police can prevent ordinary people from attending legal demonstrations. Police are now appealing for permission to detain innocent Londoners who wish to exercise their democratic rights by attending a demonstration. I fully support the Fairford Coach detainees in their struggle for basic human rights." (September 2004)

"Stopping the Fairford coaches was an outrageous use of police resources. Until recently here in London, the police classed environmental protesters with 'burglars and other criminals'. It's time the police realised that peaceful civil rights activists are not terrorists, but people who are concerned about the lack of democracy and are fighting for all of us." (September 2004)

"To join a peaceful demonstration is accepted as a basic right in this country... they were, in effect, arrested without having done anything wrong." (from 15 January 2004 News Release)

Jenny Jones, London Assembly and Ex-Deputy Mayor (Green Party Member)

- Homepage: