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Full report on DSEi arms fair 'trespass on DLR' trial

posted by dv | 11.12.2007 18:12 | DSEi 2007 | Anti-militarism | London

DSEi arms fair protester wins trial

By Jon Emmetts

The court case against an anti-arms trade protester was thrown out today, as magistrates ruled she had NO CASE TO ANSWER. She had been arrested in September this year, where the ExCel Centre in East London hosted the world's biggest arms fair, and was charged with trespassing on a railway.

Gwyn Gwyntopher entered Custom House DLR Station in East London, intending to go through it to get to the ExCel Centre. The station is signposted as a public route to ExCel, and was being used as such by arms dealers throughout the day, to get to the pub on the other side of the railway in order to unwind after a stressful day of torture and murder.

In previous arms fairs, and even on the previous day, Gwyn had been allowed by ExCel bigwigs onto ExCel property to hand out leaflets. She approached the guards on the boundary of ExCel's property, hoping to be allowed through. CCTV played in court showed that after a conversation lasting about three seconds, she was approached by British Transport Police.

No arms dealers doing the same thing as her were accosted by police. But then, they weren't wearing signs on their backs saying "Remember the victims of the arms trade". In court, the three officers accepted that she had not behaved unlawfully before they approached her. She hadn't distributed leaflets, shouted or been abusive - she had even stood in a corner to avoid obstructing people walking past. It was absolutely clear from the evidence that she was targeted for expressing a political opinion, though the prosecution sought to deny this, and skirt around the issue. (To the extraordinary extent that in her opening speech, the prosecutor specifically said "This is not a political case.")

The police asked her to leave, and she offered to do so - via the ExCel exit. Police decided this was impossible, as ExCel guards weren't letting people through without DSEi passes. But why was it any business of the British Transport Police that she didn't have a pass to get into ExCel? Because going through ExCel exit might upset the sensitive souls of the merchants of death she would be walking past. The police solution was three burly men handcuffing the 66 year old, and dragging her down a flight of concrete steps* into a waiting van. (This morning, Gwyn took off her shoes and proudly showed off the holes in her socks caused by this method of departure.)

In court

The prosecution case relied on a piece of beautifully circular logic. They said that Gwyn was not trespassing when she entered the station. She became a trespasser when police asked her to leave - because of the very fact that she refused their request for her to leave. A kind of self-fulfilling crime.

The offence of trespassing on a railway is committed when someone refuses a request by an "Agent or officer" of the railway to leave. There are several points in answer to this charge, the main ones being:

1) Gwyn did not refuse to leave. She said repeatedly to police at the scene, and in interview, that she was happy to leave, but only via the ExCel exit - which would take her sign nearer to the arms dealers. It became clear that the police's interest was not in removing her from DLR property, as they claimed, but in avoiding the consciences of arms dealers being pricked

The prosecution said that officers were entitled to impose any conditions on her exit that they wanted to, and that she was not allowed to have any say in the route of her departure. The defence said the opposite, as there is nothing to give these powers to police in the Act under which Gwyn was charged.

2) She was not committing an offence at the point officers approached her. Trespass is a civil matter, and therefore one which police are not allowed to intervene in; trespass on a railway is a criminal offence. Trespass is entering onto, or remaining on, someone's property without their permission. In the case of a railway station, you are invited as a member of the public to enter it. You therefore have to do a specific thing for the railway company to revoke their permission for you to be there. Like busking, or fighting. The prosecution accepted she had not done anything like that.

3) The police are not "Officers or agents" of the railway landowners, a company called Serco. They are patrolling as police, and the land they patrol on happens to belong to Serco. They are therefore not entitled to act as enforcers of Serco's property rights. In approaching her before she had broken any other law, they had assumed delegated responsibility for the point at which Serco decided they withdrew permission for Gwyn to be in the station. They had no authority to do this.

At the end of the prosecution case, Gwyn's lawyer, Paul Kaufman of Wiseman Lee solicitors, made a submission to the magistrates that she had no case to answer. i.e., that the prosecution case could not only be argued against, but that the court had NO EVIDENCE at all from the prosecution which it could convict her with. The magistrates agreed with his submission, and the court dismissed the case.

The magistrates ruled that the British Transport Police are not agents of Serco. Under the Act, this meant that given she had done nothing else wrong, she could not have been trespassing simply because the police told her to go.

For the defendant not to have to even say a word to defend themselves is as good as the court saying that the case shouldn't have been brought in the first place.

A proud day for freedom of expression, and a poke in the eye for police powers being used to protect arms companies!

Footnote (courtesy of Chris Gwyntopher):

*In fact, Gwyn was dragged in handcuffs across the concrete to the lift, but was not dragged down the stairs, though one of the transport police officers had said that she was.

posted by dv
- e-mail: dviesnik at yahoo dot co dot uk


Display the following 3 comments

  1. more compensation? — Daniel Locke
  2. Front Page news in the City — city worker
  3. Response to earlier comments — dv