[At the risk of doing an injustice to the other defendants and their excellent barristers, I’m going to focus on Alfie’s examination-in-chief, cross-examination and Mansfield’s closing speech. There are important details in the defence of the other defendants, but I’ll leave these until after the trial has finished. Also it would make this report longer than it is already.]
Day 8 saw the examination-in-chief and cross-examination of Alfie. Michael Mansfield QC began his examination of Alfie with a couple of observations. Referring to the recent David Hockney exhibition ‘A Bigger Picture’, Mansfield suggested that one of the interesting things about this exhibition was Hockney’s use of trees, and then when you get up close to see the details (and he asked the jury here to bear in mind the use of extracts and clips in the case), you suddenly, he suggested, notice that there’s a disconnect – ‘the branches don’t need other branches, the leaves are disembodied’ – and that it’s only when you step back and see the context that you see that it’s a very different picture. ‘Bear this in mind if it’s useful,’ he advised the jury.
Mansfield talked about the two contexts of the day of the 9th of December that he’d already mentioned in his questioning of silver commander Johnson: the context set by the police themselves that day, and their ‘deeply flawed’ approach in the way they handled the number of protesters in Parliament Square, the length of the containment that day, the ability of vulnerable people to leave, and so on – all of which is there in the lead-up to the context of Alfie’s charge. There is also, Mansfield said, there is the context of Alfie’s background: a young man with a serious interest in education, protesting at place that has been a place of law-making for 2000 years, all the way back to Thorney Island. How, Mansfield asked the jury, did Alfie come to be caught up in these circumstances?
During his direct examination of Alfie, Mansfield asked about what difficulties he had encountered during his studies at Middlesex. Describing his ‘brilliant’ first year, Alfie then described how, in the Spring of 2010, the university had announced they would be closing their Philosophy department, and how this had made him ‘very upset’ and worried for the future of Philosophy at post-92 institutions. Mansfield then asked Alfie about his involvement in any protest at Middlesex, to which he replied that he had been involved in the occupation, was aware of the bigger picture of education cuts to post-92 universities and had been on all the previous student protests in late 2010, along with other Middlesex students, lecturers and students from Kingston university (where the Middlesex postgrad Philosophy department had moved). Mansfield asked Alfie about his experience on previous demos, which Alfie said included seeing FIT intelligence gatherers (photographers), use of batons by riot police and of kettling on Nov 24th at a protest in Whitehall. Alfie also described the ‘witch-hunting’ of students by right-wing blogs who asked their readers to send in names and addresses of students after the protest at Millbank, and the arrest of 200 people (later released without charge) and the taking of their details at a protest on December 1st, and how during his disciplinary at Middlesex for his involvement in the occupation, he had been shown photos of himself taken from campus CCTV and Facebook. Alfie said in the wake of this, he had read advice on Fitwatch as to how to protect your identity and to avoid being filmed by police intelligence-gatherers on protests.
Much of the rest of the examination-in-chief was taken up by a lengthy and detailed description of events on the day of the 9th Dec – timings, locations, who Alfie met up with. Alfie described the various points of the day where he had seen people crushed as they entered Parliament Square where barriers had still been up, and times when protesters had been hit by batons and shields, when protesters realised a full containment had been put in, how they were directed to various exits, all of which were closed, when police had pushed down Whitehall on horses, and how people had used railings to protect themselves from both the horses and police batons and shields. Alfie said that when he had seen police using long shields and batons to hit protesters he felt ‘protective’ of other protesters and that he had touched the side of a piece of railing as he helped others try to defend the crowd from the police at around 6pm. Barriers had been placed upright at the corner of Whitehall and Parliament Square to form a defensive wall against police who were using batons over the top and sides and poking them through. There had been surges in the crowd and then police from the side. Alfie said he had turned his back to the police and had been hit on the top of his head, to the right. He described being in ‘huge amounts of pain’ and had to push his way out of the crowd, and how he had bumped into Professor Peter Hallward, who had realised that he wasn’t in a good way, managed to get the police to let Alfie out of the containment, but wasn’t allowed by the police at the cordon to go with him. Mansfield indicated at this point that Alfie had suffered a fractured skull and spent several days in hospital.
Lofthouse, for the prosecution, reminded the jury that they were not concerned with the rightness or wrongness of the protests or issues themselves. Lofthouse suggested that chants of ‘f*** the police’ on the day of the protest suggested some were seeking a confrontation with the police, to which Alfie said ‘I didn’t chant that’. Lofthouse suggested that Alfie hadn’t mentioned misbehaviour on the part of the protesters, to which Alfie replied the he didn’t remember seeing any unprovoked violence against the police, but had seen placard sticks and a flare thrown. Lofthouse suggested that Alfie was giving a ‘one-eyed’ account of the day to which Alfie replied that he had seen a lot of protesters being hurt, but no police injuries. Lofthouse suggested that anyone obscuring their identity on a protest had ‘something to hide’ to which Alfie replied that the police take photos and info of a great many people on protests which had nothing to do with anything they were supposed to have done. During the screening of footage from around 6pm, Lofthouse repeated the assertion that Alfie had wanted to confront the police, that he was ‘looking for it’ to which Alfie replied that no, he had been trying to leave, was trying to avoid being hit by batons and was attempting to defend himself and others from the police in the face of the latter’s ‘unreasonable and aggressive’ behaviour. Alfie stated that he wasn’t trying to hurt the police at any point, nor was he ‘encouraging the crowd’ as Lofthouse suggested at one point, but only wanted to defend others, and had been scared by the behaviour of the police. The prosecution footage at this point ran on in to 18.10, at which point Alfie said ‘this is when I’m hit’, and stated that the police were ‘indiscriminately’ beating people on the head at this point. Mansfield in his re-examination clarified with Alfie that this was the time around when Alfie had been hit and asked him again whether he had carried out any ‘sustained and ferocious attack’ on the police at any point that day, to which Alfie replied ‘no’.
Day 9 saw several witnesses take the stand. Many of these were people who had met up with Alfie on the day, including his mother, and described in their own words what they had experienced of containment, confusion over whether there had been any way out, horse charges, baton and shield use, the directions given by police to protesters as to where to leave only to discover that these exits were also closed off, the single-file eventual exits (while being filmed) of those contained on Westminster Bridge later that evening. One witness, who didn’t know Alfie, was a Doctor who stated that she had treated between 5-10 head injuries (which protesters had said were from police batons) during the protest using her first aid kit in a makeshift treatment area. She said she felt this had been ‘her duty’. She told the court that she routinely wore a bandanna to protests because of the police evidence gathering teams. She stated that the age of people on the protest had been generally very young and that she had seen schoolchildren in their uniforms on the protest.
The final two days of last week saw the prosecution sum up their case against all five defendants, followed by the five individual final speeches by the barristers of each of the accused. As I said, I’ll just focus on Mansfield’s final speech here, though there were important details in the defence for each of the other four that reinforced and amplified the final speech that Mansfield made.
Mansfield began by returning to a comment made by the Judge when Johnson was on the stand, to the effect that a breach of the peace was like ‘an elephant’, in that you know it when you see one but that it’s difficult to describe. Mansfield suggested that the elephant in the room in this case was the use of police batons, and referred to a piece by Banksy where he decorated an elephant in the same style as the wallpaper in a room. People reacted to the elephant differently, argued Mansfield. Some simply didn’t see it, some would pretend they hadn’t seen it because they couldn’t quite believe it, and others didn’t ignore it at all. Silver commander Johnson admitted that the log books revealed the elephant in the entry from 12.15pm on the night of 9th Dec with the entry regarding a young man with serious head injuries who was ‘likely to die’. The Prosecution, argued Mansfield, had known about this from an early stage, and about the context that led to it. If the buck did indeed stop with Johnson, Mansfield said, then a protester head injury would surely be a cause for ‘serious concern’. Mansfield said ‘you may think this is a serious omission in a case of this gravity’. Johnson had suggested that baton use had been ‘unremarkable’ that day – Mansfield stated that if that was the case ‘we should all be extraordinarily careful before we go out in to the streets or protest’.
Mansfield turned to the footage of the protest at around 18.10 when Alfie said he sustained the head injury. There can. Mansfield said, be no justification for what happened to him, but that it should not be understood as an isolated incident. What happened to Alfie formed part of ‘a pattern of serious misbehaviour by police that day’. We saw in the footage, said Mansfield, many young people that day wearing hard hats and bicycle helmets – they were not, he suggested, worried about violence from other protesters: ‘is that really that state we’re in now?’ Mansfield said, suggesting that it was, and that Alfie and others therefore were driven to legitimately resist this state of affairs and had a right to self-defence. Mansfield said that somebody has to be accountable for what is happening. Someone has to look back and say this is not how we do things: ‘In the mean time, ordinary people may have to defend themselves’. Johnson is now in charge of policing the Olympics, noted Mansfield, ‘these are not footnotes to history we’re dealing with’ but rather ‘the substance of public policing’. Mansfield returned to the HMIC and Facilitating Peaceful Protest guidelines he’d brought up with Johnson before and noted once again how there was a serious worry regarding the lack of guidelines on baton use to the head.
Turning to the use of horse charges on the day, Mansfield said that the footage shows a static crowd with no warning given that the horses are about to charge. This, he noted, took place after containment where people have nowhere else to go. This was treating people like ‘cannon fodder’ suggested Mansfield, and most importantly, where is any instance of ‘sustained and ferocious’ violence on the part of the protesters? Some placards are thrown after the horse charge and there are chants of ‘shame on you’, which Mansfield suggested ‘spoke for itself’. Mansfield said that the police were ‘mightily lucky’ that no one was killed that day – either Alfie or someone else as a result of the use of batons, or as a result of the horse charges.
Mansfield said that the jury must ask themselves whether Alfie honestly believed or may have honestly believed that he needed to defend himself or others from unlawful attack (actual or imminent) that day, and to bear in mind that context was everything. Mansfield then went through the day describing how police tactics panned out and how they could have been very different (‘low-impact policing’). He remarked that when he had asked Johnson if he would have done anything differently on the day he replied ‘no’. Mansfield described this as an attitude of mind that ‘percolates all the way down from the top’ and that this response exposed the ‘excesses of the day that were perpetrated on the heads of the young people’. Mansfield reiterated his claim that the kettling on Westminster Bridge at the end of the day was an act of ‘collective punishment’ and that we had seen footage of people crying, screaming, begging to be let off and terrified that they might fall off the side. For Johnson to blame the protesters coming up behind the protesters at the front for the crush was unbelievable, Mansfield suggested.
Mansfield concluded by suggested that from the police planning before the day to the kettling on the bridge was a ‘serious, excessive blot on the policing of public order in London’, where protesters, such as the Dr, but also Alfie and others felt compelled to do what the police are employed to do – to protect. The moment Alfie began to turn away from this duty, Mansfield ended, he received the injury that almost killed him.
Monday will see the judge summing up before the jury retire to consider their verdict.