Change of court venue - see addition below
My banners (pictured) were seized by Bristol police at the end of May, at the start of a Bradley (Chelsea) Manning solidarity tour of Bristol and south Wales and on the eve of the Manning show trial in the U.S.
The banners were up on the Gatton Rd footbridge over the M32. Read my account of what happened.
I'll be at Bristol Magistrates Court, Marlborough St. on Tuesday 8 October at 9.15am to answer an alleged offence of 'causing danger to road users contrary to section 22(1)(a) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and Schedule 2 to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988'.
Support (and banners!) welcome.
By the time this incident occurred, at the end of May 2013, the pink FREE BRADLEY MANNING banner had already been displayed all over the place, including Wrexham (see also here and here), Cardiff, at NSA Menwith Hill, Chester, Liverpool, London and the summit of Snowdon. It was the first outing for the TRUTH ON TRIAL banner I'd just spent two days painting and sewing.
At the beginning of July, I wrote a letter of complaint to Somerset and Avon Police about the behaviour of the two officers who had
(a) damaged and seized my banners
(b) arrested me for daring to insist that they shouldn't walk away unaccountably with my property having told me they were going to destroy it.
On 6 September, over three months after the incident and nearly two months after logging the complaint, I received a written summons to answer an alleged offence of "causing danger to road users", followed by a letter from the Roads Policing Unit stating that my complaint will not be concluded while court proceedings are ongoing.
The charge sheet reads:
Causing danger to road users
On 30/05/2013 at Gatton Road overbridge, in the City of Bristol, intentionally and without lawful authority or reasonable cause, caused canvass banners to be over a road, namely M32, Fishponds, Bristol, in such circumstances that it would have been obvious to a reasonable person that to do so would be dangerous.
Contrary to section 22(1)(a) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and Schedule 2 to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988.
H.O. 5/11 Local None CJS RT88042
FREE MANNING! END THE WARS!
From my earlier report:
This account has all been about me. It's really all about Bradley [now Chelsea] Manning, imprisoned without trial for three years, tortured, facing possible life without parole or the death penalty for exposing the crimes of empire and the facts about the real people imprisoned, abused, injured and murdered in the empire's endless wars, along with abuse of power and influence around the world... Please find ways to show your support and solidarity.
Welsh and Irish roots
Pvt. Chelsea Manning (formerly known as Bradley Manning) has Welsh and Irish roots and has close family living in south-west Wales. She was sentenced in August to 35 years in jail for daring to tell the truth, for blowing the whistle on war crimes. Manning presented us with hard evidence about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the so-called 'war on terror', exposing the lies, speaking truth to power.
A trial the US tried to keep from the public gaze
The Manning solidarity tour was part of national and international actions before and during the trial at Fort Meade, Headquarters of the NSA. Worldwide actions aimed to alert the public to proceedings and issues that the US was doing everything in its power to try to keep out of the public gaze, denying most of the defence witnesses, restricting the scope of the defence case, frustrating the efforts of independent journalists to report accurately by withholding court filings, placing unreasonable restrictions on those attending, and with a complicit mainstream media that - apart from the odd day - largely ignored what was going on in one of the most significant military trials in US history.
Independent journalist Alexa O'Brien, who comprehensively covered the trial and pretrial proceedings, talks about these issues on Triple R news.
Manning's conviction on 20 of 22 charges including several counts of espionage is a travesty of justice. Read more about the revelations, the case, the verdict and ongoing solidarity efforts on the WISE Up blog and at privatemanning.org.
In the words of Ben Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU):
[A] legal system that doesn’t distinguish between leaks to the press in the public interest and treason against the nation will not only produce unjust results, but will deprive the public of critical information that is necessary for democratic accountability.
Donate to support the family's prison visits
If you aren't totally skint, please consider making a donation to support Pvt. Manning's Wales-based family to visit her in prison at Fort Leavenworth, US, in the coming years. The family have already made four visits to the US during Manning's pre-trial detention with no financial support.
Back to the banners: Exercise your rights!
Don't let this prosecution and outrageous cop behaviour stop you from getting out on the streets with yer banners! Defending our fundamental right to freedom of expression is of paramount importance in a world where the corporate mainstream media continues to silence our voices while reporting government lies as fact and where so many of our previously public spaces have been privatised and commodified. I'll be defending my rights in court this time but the best way to defend rights is by exercising them, loudly and often.
We made temporary and much smaller replacement banners the same night the others were seized, but I later made another full size one. Here's an account of one of three banner drops with the new banner in London, this one on 22 August, the day the Manning sentence was handed down:
Early evening, I head off to a footbridge over the North Circular that my brother and I have identified as a suitable location for a banner drop. At the start of this trial, Bristol cops interfered with my freedom of expression by seizing my banners and embarking on a pantomime of refusing to give them back and threatening their destruction. This culminated in my arrest and the threat of a charge that has yet to materialise, the banners became 'evidence' and I lodged a complaint that so far hasn't resulted in their return. I thought that was bad but this time it's worse. As I approach the steps on foot, my jaw drops. Someone's taken the bridge away! That's a lot of trouble to go to just to stop me putting up a couple of banners. It doesn't work anyway as I choose a nearby road bridge and display them on there instead.
e-mail: wiseupforbm [at] yahoo.com
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NOTICE OF CHANGES TO HEARING
The cases listed below were to be heard on 8 October 2013 at 9.15am at Bristol Magistrates' Court. The court will now hear them
on 8 October 2013 at 10am
at Courtroom 01, North Avon Magistrates Court, Kennedy Way, Yate, South Gloucestershire, BS37 4PY.
The defendant MUST come to court or a warrant will be issued.
because the offence was committed within the jurisdiction covered by North Avon.
NB. Your letter regarding the reasonable adjustment has been forwarded to North Avon Magistrates' Court.
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As one of the tenets of British justice is supposed to be "innocent until proven guilty", it's way out of order for a letter from the court, pre-hearing and pre-trial, to state "because the offence was committed..."
... alleged offence... Surely?
The explanation offered for the change of venue doesn't add up, since there has never been any doubt where the incident occurred and presumably this has always been in the North Avon area of jurisdiction. So why was it listed at Bristol Mag. court to begin with and why has it been changed?
The bit about reasonable adjustments is weird too. The letter is supposed to be from North Avon Magistrates Court, but states that my request for reasonable adjustments "has been forwarded to North Avon Magistrates' Court."
At the end of last week, it turned out that the documentation for this case would not be available until just before the hearing, although I had asked to have it well in advance. The court refused my request to adjourn. I’ll write up later the detail of the exchanges that ensued, but the upshot is that I refuse to be put at the disadvantage of not seeing the case against me until the day of the hearing, especially as I don’t have legal representation, so I have entered a written plea of ‘Not Guilty’ and will not be attending court on Tuesday.
However, all credit to the court staff for identifying reasonable adjustments that could be made so the court room and waiting area are accessible to me.
As I understand it, she was ludicrously held overnight Sat and they were planning to transfer her to cells near Avon North Mag Court on Sunday to be further held for an appearance on Monday, but instead transferred her to 'somewhere near Mold' for an appearance there on Monday (today).
Also understand that someone who tried to get to see her at the police station 'near Mold' was refused access which is bloody outrageous (as is the whole thing, of course).
Time wasting, money wasting and pathetically childish from start to....unfinished....
More to come...
The issue was that I had received a summons for allegedly 'causing danger to road users' but had no idea what the evidence for or nature of this alleged danger was. I had requested disclosure of more information but had received nothing. By Fri 4 October, it became apparent that the court had a case summary including Section 9 statements but I was told I'd only be able to see that on the day. I was not happy to be presented with this on the day and be expected to submit a plea without having had proper opportunity to consider the case against me. If the police had presented evidence of some danger caused, for instance, I may have wished to discuss it with others (not just the duty solicitor), take legal advice and contemplate my position. I did take legal advice about the insistence of the court that I should attend without having had the case papers in advance and I was advised to write and submit a plea of 'not guilty' in those circumstances - ie if the court was refusing to adjourn. The solicitor I consulted said "solicitors do it on behalf of clients all the time. A self-representing defendant shouldn't be treated any differently. They have left you with no option."
I was sent an email on Mon 7 Oct by the court (that I didn't see because I was away in London and wasn't aware of until the court mentioned it on 14 October). This refused an adjournment again and told me I must attend or a warrant might be issued. In the event, the court did issue a warrant when I didn't attend (although court staff were well aware of why I had not attended). If the court considered that an email received on Monday was sufficient notice, then there is no good reason why the case papers could not have been put in the post on Friday as these would have arrived at my address on Saturday or Monday. They were not sent to me then and they were not sent to me after the hearing on 8 October. When I was brought before the court on 14 October, I still hadn't had chance to read them myself at the point I was required to submit a plea. There is something badly wrong with a system that demands an admission or denial of guilt before the detail of the charge is known.
The warrant triggered a series of events that were traumatic to me and involved a large and unnecessary cost to the public purse. I was arrested late Saturday night (busiest night of the week on the streets and in the cells) after threats to break down my door. The situation was only defused when I got my neighbour and cute puppy to attend outside the house as witnesses.
The police must have known full well I'd have to be held until Monday when I was transported in a Geo Amey van all the way from north Wales to Avon Magistrates' Court at Yate near Bristol. I'd made it clear I was representing myself, but when I arrived the duty solicitor who I hadn't asked to represent me not only had the case papers I'd been denied access to but had already taken the liberty of meeting with the prosecutor who she said agreed with her that "this case is a nonsense" and that the evidence in the case papers did not support a charge of "causing danger to road users".
Despite this apparent agreement on the lack of merit of the case the prosecutor wasn't willing to drop it, saying he would have to consult with his superiors at the CPS first (in case they want to press on regardless, presumably). He reportedly told the duty solicitor, by way of justifying police "concern" over the banners, that "it's a bit of a political hot potato, isn't it?" So it would seem that some of the alleged danger to road users may be ideological.
After two nights without sleep and still no opportunity to study the case against me, I felt seriously disadvantaged and eventually agreed that the duty solicitor could represent me in court. This wasn't an unqualified success, but it had some advantages. I entered a plea of not guilty, opted for a crown court jury trial, was released on unconditional bail after the prosecutor said generously that I was "obviously a lady of good character" or something along those lines that he really couldn't have been expected to know just from looking at me, and a date was set for the next hearing at Bristol Crown Court at 10am on Monday 4 November, with the prosecution instructed to inform me by 2 November if it was discontinuing its case against me.
Geo Amey, who run the escort service and the court cells, failed to return some of the items I'd handed over on entry, undid all the hard work I'd done to have my lighting needs met by refusing to go into the unlit court room and insisting on turning the lights back on, then issued me with an invalid travel warrant that I couldn't use so it cost me £60 to get home. If I hadn't had grabbed my purse before I submitted to the arrest, I'd probably still be walking back now.
The case against me was dropped by the CPS a couple of days before the first crown court hearing.
Grounds: Insufficient evidence (like none).
When I get time I'll write up the whole story.
A very large and indefensible waste of public money...