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socpa: first overturned verdict in the crown court

rikki | 09.04.2006 09:57 | SOCPA | Indymedia | Repression

on april 6th, brian haw's campaign manager and long-standing right-hand woman, maria gallestegui, won a historic battle against the ridiculous section 132 law banning protest around parliament. her case was thrown out of the high court when the prosecution offered little evidence.

maria's arrest came on the very first day the 'serious organised crime and police act' (socpa) law came into effect - august 1st 2005. there was a demonstration against the new law organised by 'stop the war coalition' (none of whom, mysteriously, were arrested).

maria works as a school bus driver, but for several years now she has worked closely with brian haw (the man who has spent nearly five years outside parliament in a lone protest with his numerous placards reminding mps and others of the genocide visited on the children and innocent population of iraq in the name of 'freedom' and 'justice'. he is also widely thought to be the reason this section 132 clause was brought into existence, in order to clear the pavement and the war criminals' conscience of his eternal blot. but the attempt to silence him was thwarted by the high court decision, made just three days before august 1st, that his protest was immune as the new act could not be applied retrospectively and he had been there since 2001). he was in the high court again last week defending his rights after the government appealed against the decision, and a ruling on his current status is expected in the next few days.

in the hearing of maria's case (, the court heard how she has supported him in many ways, co-ordinating others to make sure that the square was never left unattended when brian had court appearances or food and ablution breaks. she herself stayed in the square when brian was in hospital. she looked after his welfare and made sure he had an opportunity to have regular showers and clean changes of underwear etc. she made sure that he ate either by arranging cover for him to leave his space, or by bringing him food. in 2005 when brian ran for parliament, she was his campaign agent. all this meant that she was under the impression that she too would be immune from the new legislation as she was clearly part of his protest.

the judge, nicholas evans, who has now been over-ruled, decided that she had infact been taking part in the unauthorised stwc demo that afternoon, and he fined her £100 plus costs.

in her appeal at southwark crown court, it didn't take long for the judges to decide that the cps had offered little evidence.

this decision is historic in that it was the first socpa conviction to be overturned. however, the battle to have the law repealed goes on, and the first conviction overturned on human rights grounds will be the real victory to come. people are still receiving criminal convictions under the new law, and last week mark barrett was fined the largest amount yet (£250 plus £250 costs). next wednesday at 10am, milan rai will hear his verdict at bow street magistrates court. he is the first, and to my knowledge, only person to be charged as an organiser of an unauthorised demo, and if found guilty, may face a large fine and/or possible imprisonment. (

the campaign continues, and last weekend saw a mass of activity in parliament square with illegal demos on both days, one of which, the 'naming the dead' ceremony on sunday attracted more than 200 people and lots of media attention. there was one arrest and one 'reporting for possible summons later'. both were of a character dressed as charlie chaplin who was waving banners that said 'not aloud', and 'careless talk costs lives'!!!! this law is an ass.

the sunday campaigning picnics still meet every week after 1pm
brian haw's battle continues



more info on this

09.04.2006 18:08

i spoke to maria this afternoon, and confirmed that not only was her charge under section 132 thrown out, but the charge of obstructing a police officer, arising from her attempt to hang on to another socpa defendant who the police were trying to drag away, was also dismissed by the judge and two magistrates. the prosecution wasted court time with witnesses not turning up, papers not ready, and general lack of evidence. whether this was due to complete incompetence, or due to an unwillingness to continue with the prosecution under this controversial and idiotic law, remains unclear.

mixed messages abound over the use of section 132. last weekend, scores of demonstrators defied the act on saturday with the clowns, fairies and ghouls parade, openly causing a spectacle and brandishing political placards, while on sunday the 'naming the dead' ceremony attracted hundreds who did likewise. there were no connected arrests. but last friday, mark barrett received a £500 sting and a criminal record for wearing one small placard at a picnic, and today barbara tucker received a warning and narrowly avoided arrest when police backed down in the face of media presence and a barrage of diatribe from brian haw.

this week is crucial in the battle of section 132 with the brian haw verdict coming any day soon, and milan rai's verdict on wednesday.