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SOCPA - brian haw court case (day 1) - superintendent terry in the dock

rikki | 12.12.2006 00:14 | SOCPA | Anti-militarism | Repression | London

parliament square protestor, brian haw, was at marylebone magistrates court today facing criminal charges arising earlier in the year for alleged breach of conditions imposed on his demo. as an 'organiser' he could face a custodial sentence. the case is set to last three days and supporters are welcome - there is a public gallery.

police 'imposing' conditions in may 2006
police 'imposing' conditions in may 2006

superintendent peter terry
superintendent peter terry

today, superintendent peter terry appeared in the dock. he had cut his hair especially for the occasion, and coughed nervously, asking for a drink of water on more than one occasion. the prosecution took him through his police career to the point when, after various internal public order training courses, he took up his superintendent role at charing cross in 2004.

the court watched an excellent video from 2004 in which inspector andy robinson and another officer named engledew(?) were seen approaching and talking to brian haw to relate their concerns about the size of his demo site and the potential for terrorists that they believed it posed. in the video, brian spoke peacefully and eloquently. highlights were when the police took him to show how easily bombs could be concealed and discovered that four 'suspicious' bags contained no more than sand - not known as a great catalyst for explosive devices. they then claimed that traffic cones had been used in terrorist attacks previously (although it is not known if students were involved in these). brian pointed out that you'd NEED to be a suicide bomber if you intended to skulk behind the placards and then run in front of the busy road traffic towards the palace of westminster.

in the video, the police continued to express their concern to brian about the size of his demo on security grounds, but he kept minding them of the reasons why his display was there in the first place - that the placards were a reminder of the genocide being perpetrated in our names. brian suggested that if the police wanted his display to be smaller or even to disappear then they'd be better off going after bush and blair - he told them that his display simply grew in direct proportion to the crimes committed. when asked how long he intended to remain there, brian said 'as long as it takes - do you know what the half-life of depleted uranium is?' the police continued with their threats that unless brian co-operated they would have to initiate proceedings against him. brian's dignified performance in the video won warm applause from the public gallery after it was shown.

brian had previously won a court case against westminster who had claimed that he was 'obstructing the pavement' and that he was 'breaking advertising guidelines'. they hadn't even brought up any issue of security. it emerged in court that the police concerns and their threat of action in that 2004 video had amounted to nothing as it became clear they had absolutely no legal power over him. in fact they ended up breaking off 'negotiations' with his solicitor and retreated.

but then, the serious organised crime and police act (specifically sections 132 to 138) came along. at first, brian won a high court ruling that because his demo had pre-dated the act he would become the ONLY person in britain to be exempt from it. but in may 2006, the government appeal was won, the circle was squared, black and white became grey, and brian became subject to the act written specifically against him. the very next day, the superintendent slapped a set of conditions on him, but as the defence pointed out, there was one small problem - only the commissioner of police could impose conditions.

a letter was produced which was signed by the commissioner in which he delegated power under the act to superintendent terry, but there was another small problem - the letter wasn't dated. under cross-examination, superintendent terry agreed that it was 'most unusual' to have an undated letter, but it had been placed in a file which WAS dated (12th july 2005), so that was alright then.

brian haw's defence barrister for this case is a queen's counsel named ian macdonald who has an impressive pedigree, working for the manchester-based civil liberties chambers, 'garden court north'. he has been involved in major political trials over the last few decades, but is especially recognised for his immigration and race relations work, involving many anti-deportation hearings. six years after his appointment as attorney general at the special immigration appeals commission he resigned as a matter of principle in december 2004 over the detention without trial of suspected terrorists.

he certainly put superintendent terry on the defensive in his rigorous cross-examination. i'll give more details in a summing-up later in the week, but one small example today was when he took terry through various scenarios which ridiculed the conditions imposed so that in the end the superintendent had to agree that brian could end up in prison for making a cup of tea!

amusing though all this was, it only highlights the tremendous implications that the socpa legislation has. it hands over legislative control to the police. by imposing conditions, superintendent terry effectively can write laws which only apply to one man, brian haw. and as brian is notified as an 'organiser' of a demonstration, if he breaks those 'laws' he can end up in prison. this is an enormous power, and clouds the long-established distinction between parliament, the police, and the courts. that is why socpa is so dangerous, such an affront to a democratic society, and so insidious. terry can write laws criminalising the behaviour of anyone who dares to organise a protest - it could be you!

incidentally, it also came out in court that, since socpa came into effect, only five demonstrations have had conditions imposed, and of those, three have had them imposed by terry. ALL THREE were in parliament square and involved peace protests. this is in stark contrast to the demo held by tamil supporters who staged a hunger strike for several days in the square with many people involved, some staying overnight, with plenty of bags, and various supporters coming and going, at all times unrestricted - they were protesting in support of the 'tamil tigers' who were actually a proscribed terrorist organisation, but apparently terry didn't have any security fears over that protest.

meanwhile, terry had to admit that brian, who has been there for five and a half years, has never been associated in any way with any terrorist scare, threat, or suspicion. in fact it seemed that the best terry could come up with was that he'd seen two written complaints from tourists that brian had spoiled their view of parliament.

the case continues tomorrow, tuesday at 10.30am, and is likely to last a third day. supporters are warmly welcomed in court and outside. the outcome will have huge repercussions.

if brian wins, then the police raid on his site in may 2006 will have been unlawful, and their power to impose conditions in future may be severely curtailed.

if the police win, then it will be another dark day for democracy and human rights in this country, establishing the freedom of the police to take a legislative role against protesters, and destroying centuries of hard-won progress in justice and rights. it could also mean a prison sentence for brian haw, and the end of his peace vigil which has been a constant conscience-pricker to blair and parliament for more than 2000 days and nights since before the twin tower attacks in 2001.

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Display the following 9 comments

  1. "another dark day for democracy" — Tired_of_sitting_and_waiting
  2. Spot an Rikky — Silent Bob
  3. Good post — Ben
  4. thank you, rikki — sean m. madden
  5. Excellent report — mike d
  6. Good report — Jan
  7. "ongoing public disorder"? — ACAB
  8. stop talking about Me! — debate coach
  9. "debate coach" — just wondering