The use of the nation’s police for political ends is nothing new – anyone who lived through the Miners’ Strike in the 1980s, or has at least watched Billy Elliott and looked beyond the dance scenes, will have some idea of how the law can be applied to undermine often legitimate protests in what we assure ourselves is a “free country”.
It is still happening. The collapse of a prosecution brought against a Croydon pensioner for having the audacity to protest against a Poor Doors development shows that no expense is spared when the interests of speculators and property developers – or Tory Mayor of London Boris Johnson – is concerned.
It used to be the scene in thousands of neighbourhoods every November 5 – the ritualistic burning of an effigy to “celebrate” (if that’s the word) Guy Fawkes Night. When Jane Nicholl burned a Guy last winter, the effigy was of Boris Johnson.
Nicholl was arrested outside 1 Commercial Street, at Aldgate East, on November 5, 2014, after lighting the Boris effigy with her sparkler during one of the regular protests against the Apartment Apartheid practised at that residential block – with one entrance for owners of the Yuppie flats, and another “tradesman’s entrance” for residents of the social housing included there.
The demo was staged by the Class War group, who appear to be targeted increasingly by the police, with expensive and time-consuming prosecutions which ultimately fail when brought to court.
One Class War election candidate was charged by the Met with criminal damage after committing the terrible offence of sticking a poster to a window of a Poor Doors development. Croydon South’s very own oxymoronic anarchist, Jon Bigger, saw the march to launch his election campaign last month attended by more than a dozen police officers, all presumably on weekend duty overtime at public expense, who traipsed around Purley monitoring his every step – even though Class War that day failed to attract enough “protestors” to fill a park bench.
The Boris Burning case is another instance of the insidious and sinister manner in which the law is being used to target individual protestors. With Jane Nicholl, a retired victim support worker and a woman without criminal record, her case dragged on for six stressful months, and was brought at considerable public expense, before being abandoned by the police and Criminal Prosecution Service as being utterly baseless.
According to a report in The Lawyer magazine this week, during the Class War protest on November 5, “Police looked on and were seen to grin, protestors danced around crying ‘Burn Boris, burn’ and passers-by stopped and took photographs. The London Fire Brigade deployed a single firefighter with a bucket of water to extinguish the fire.”
It was then that Nicholl was seized, arrested and bundled into a police van. More than 10 police officers wrote witness statements about the “dangerous blaze” and Nicholl was charged with “interrupting, injuring or endangering a highway user by setting the fire”.
The Boris Burning case came to trial at Thames Magistrates’ Court on election day. In open court, a barrister for the CPS was compelled to announce that it was perfectly lawful to burn effigies of Boris – just not there or then. The CPS, they said, would prove that members of the public were endangered by having to walk on to the road as the effigy of Boris burned.
Not for the first time, there were problems with the police’s evidence to prove their case. It was not until after the CPS finally got to view the police’s CCTV evidence that they applied to change the charge to “that a police officer was endangered”.
The Lawyer reported: “The Court was unimpressed. Defence barrister, human rights specialist Ian Brownhill pointed out this was the third version of the Crown’s case. He argued it was unfair to allow the CPS to keep changing their tune and he reminded the Judge of the image of the grinning yet endangered policemen. The Judge refused the application. The prosecution folded.”
Outside court, Brownhill said, “It is hard to understand how this matter survived the review of prosecutors when nobody was injured and it all took place on Bonfire Night. The cost to bring this case, have five police witnesses attend Court, must run into the thousands.”
Nicholl was understandably relieved to have the prosecution brought against her fail so utterly, but was angry that the police and the CPS had attempted to intimidate her and her Class War group to try to get them to drop their protests against Poor Doors developments.
She told Inside Croydon: “Protests against gentrification and social apartheid are now spreading throughout London and my aim is to carry on being part of these protests until this social cleansing is wiped out for good. I’ve protested against apartheid in South Africa in the Seventies and I am now protesting against social segregation in London in 2015.”
The apparent targeting, using public resources, of a generally peaceful protest group by the Met Police, is something which should concern all those who cherish the democratic right to freedom of speech. And to think that the new Tory Government, of which London’s part-time Mayor is now a member, wants to get rid of the Human Rights Act.
- Inside Croydon Events: for dates and links to what’s happening in and around Croydon, updated daily, click here
Inside Croydon: Named among best regional media campaigns, 2014.
- Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough: 729,297 page views in 2014.
- If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, a residents’ or business association or local event, please email us with full details at email@example.com