It was a wet and windy morning in Liverpool so all credit to the 20-odd people who turned up in spite of the weather to support Sarah Ledsom outside court, including people from Liverpool Occupy who were battling against the elements to stop their camp from blowing away that morning.
Dale Street Magistrates Court is on a busy junction and, once all the banners were up, we were very visible to both foot and vehicle traffic with lots of support from the drivers of passing cars, vans and buses. Banners pointed out Lockheed Martin's track record as a company which profits from war and death, for example killing children in Palestine and making the nuclear weapons that threaten all life on earth. Hardly surprising, therefore, that people oppose its involvement in the Census.
We'd been told by a couple of journos the night before that Dale Street Magistrates court were saying that the case was to be heard at a different court about 5 minutes walk away. Sarah hadn't been informed about this and would have struggled to walk between the courts in any case, so we turned up at Dale Street as planned, Sarah stayed outside with the demonstration until 5 to 10 and the hearing did in fact take place there. We haven't got to the bottom of this bit of mis/disinformation.
There was a fair amount of media interest outside the court with BBC Radio Merseyside, Radio City, the Liverpool Echo, Granada TV and BBC TV turning up. Not sure how much of it translated into media reports, but BBC put 2 minutes on the evening regional TV news. Unfortunately, the media influenced the whole event as well as reporting on it. Walking in or out of the court for a second time so the cameraman could get his shots was a minor inconvenience. Being whisked away to Radio Merseyside studios so the interview with Sarah could be filmed under more conducive conditions and to give 'variety' or something meant that Sarah didn't have time to talk with her supporters after the hearing, which was a real shame. At least it did make it onto the news - after over an hour spent getting there, setting up and filming, the reporter announced that there was every chance the story might be dropped from the list.
All that was later though...
Back inside the Magistrates Court at 10am, Sarah gave her name to the Usher and we ascertained that we could be waiting all morning as there was no running order. "Don't worry" said Sarah. "They'll want our demonstration out of the way soonest. I don't think we'll be waiting long." She was right. 10 minutes later she was called in, but not before we'd discovered another census refuser waiting for his case to be heard. We only had time to tell him Sarah was planning to plead not guilty and to hand him a flyer before it was Sarah's turn. She answered 'not guilty' to the charge, the trial date was set for 17 January, there was a bit of a discussion about how long might be allocated to hear her case, with the District Judge suggesting that she would have 'the rest of the morning' after the first census refuser's case had been heard (so that was another one), unconditional bail was given to 17 January and Sarah was free to leave.
As we left, we spoke for another minute with the census refuser we'd seen earlier; then he was called in. He decided to plead not guilty too and we caught up with him outside the court afterwards. His case had been adjourned to 18 January, indicating that the judge had allocated the whole rest of the day on the 17th to Sarah's case.
It was raining fairly hard as we came out of the court and people were cold and wet, so the demonstration was abandoned and people went off to find places to dry off and warm up. Some of us, including Sarah, her husband and three other census defendants from around the country met up for a debrief in the Unite union building cafeteria at lunchtime before heading across the road afterwards to say thank you to Occupy Liverpool for their support. They were just taking delivery of sandbags as we arrived...
MORE INFO AND FUTURE CASES
For more information about the campaign, contact NoCONcensus[at]yahoo.co.uk.
Next hearing that we're aware of is Deborah Glass Woodin's case (and possibly others) on Tuesday 13 December at 10am in Reading Magistrates Court.
Followed by Roger Grenville's case in Birmingham Magistrates Court on 5 January.