This is NOT the official weblog of Mark Thomas; this is a place to post his articles and news to bring them to a wider audience. This blog is in no way endorsed by the activist/comedian Mark Thomas. Most of the posts appeared on - hopefully they won't object to them being republished here.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Why do the police fear frisbees?

The "Fairford Coach" high court judgment on 19 February found the police to be in breach of human rights law. The case, brought by Jane Laporte against the Gloucestershire Constabulary, dates back to 22 March 2003. Three coaches of peace protesters going to join a demonstration at RAF Fairford, from where US B-52s were launching strikes on Iraq, were stopped some six miles from the base. The passengers were searched. They co-operated with the police. Once they were safely back in the coaches, the police - without a word of explanation - barred the doors and forced the drivers, under threat of arrest, to return to London under police escort. More than 120 people were forcibly detained on board.

Police vans and cars drove at the front and rear of the convoy, with police bikes riding alongside. The protesters hung banners from the windows reading "Help! Peace protesters illegally detained".

After a few supportive honks from passing motorists, the police closed the motorway behind the convoy, presumably to prevent those supportive car horns breaching noise pollution levels. Either that, or the Burmese military was on a twinning project and happened to be in charge that day.

Protesters phoned 999 to report their kidnap. The officers at the other end of the line went from concern to confusion to neglect in a matter of minutes. This led one group of frustrated protesters to feel that the only right to protest they might exercise that day was to erect a sign reading "All coppers are bastards!" in the back window, much to the amusement of officers in one of the accompanying police vans. In the circumstances, you have to admire the protesters' restraint.

The hearing took place in January. The police claimed that they had found offensive items on the coaches which showed that a breach of the peace would occur. Originally, the items included a hammer, a saw, two poles and knives. These were photographed for submission as evidence. On closer inspection of the photos, the solicitors found that each item had a label attached showing where it had come from. Strangely, none of the labels bore a place name matching the site where the coaches were detained.

A police video proved that the items were in fact confiscated from a traveller in an entirely different vehicle, at an entirely different location. Somewhat embarrassed by all this, the police pushed ahead, insisting that they had found other offensive items, this time actually on the coach. These were two motorcycle crash helmets, a bag of plastic toy soldiers, a frisbee, two pairs of kitchen scissors and five home-made card-and-board shields.

One can only guess the amount of magic mushrooms a sane person would have to consume to believe that a frisbee constituted a genuine threat to roughly 3,000 police officers. Even Lord Justice May and Mr Justice Harrison came to the conclusion that these couldn't be judged offensive, noting that shields and crash helmets could only be defensive.

The verdict has to be seen as a draw. The judgment is only a victory of sorts for the peace protesters, leaving both sides almost certain to appeal the decision. While the judges found the police actions of detaining people without arrest to be in breach of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to liberty, they found that the police did not breach Article 10, the right to freedom of expression, or Article 11, the right to assembly.

So the police were wrong to detain the protesters but right to turn them back to London and thus deny them the right to protest. That the police couldn't have stopped them protesting without detaining them seems to have eluded the judges who, we can only assume, are playing Luke Skywalker to Lord Hutton's Yoda.

So far, press coverage has ignored one aspect of the police's defence. Chief Superintendent Kevin Lambert, in his witness statement to the court, defended his actions as upholding the protesters' human rights under Article 2. Article 2 is the right to life.

What threat was there to the protesters' lives? Lambert said that "had a member of the public penetrated the defences and been killed or injured by one of the armed personnel guarding the B-52 aircraft . . . [the] political consequences would have been extremely damaging to the coalition partners . . . and consequently could have interfered with the prosecution of the war".

So Lambert seriously believed that protesters could be lawfully killed for entering the base. Not surprisingly, the police lawyers didn't use this defence in the trial. Perhaps because under the rules of disclosure Lambert would have had to produce the government's legal advice and policy, showing that Tony Blair was not only prepared to lie and ignore the wishes of the population, but was prepared to endorse the murder of British citizens, armed with a frisbee and a bag of plastic toy soldiers.


Post a Comment

<< Home