The vindication of five Fortnum & Mason protestors who successfully appealed against their convictions for Aggravated Trespass was tainted yesterday by the fact that four others who were found guilty in Trial B in March had their appeals dismissed.
Handing down judgment at Southwark Crown Court Judge Beddoe ordered each of these four (whose conditional discharges still stand) to pay another £815 costs on top of the £600 (and more) they each are already paying.
The prosecution offered the same case they’ve offered three times before (and which played out differently every time, in Trial A, Trial B, and Trial C). The only difference between those tried in B and those in C (who were all found not guilty) was surname. Out of seventeen people whom the CPS couldn’t distinguish one from another, only thirteen are unpunished. At the same time, none of the actions which allowed the CPS to pick out those in trial A have anything to do with intimidation, and none were then used by the prosecution. In that trial Judge Snow decided that absolutely anyone who entered Fortnum & Mason on the 26th of March intending to protest would have been guilty.
Beddoe’s is the first judgment in the Fortnum & Mason hearings – four so far – to distinguish between any of those arrested. This is despite the fact that all 145 people arrested outside Fortnum & Mason on the 26th March last year were charged individually and all those found guilty were convicted on the basis of their individual intentions (though not a single one of those arrested was interviewed at the time, or since).
While it is a little heartening to see a Judge actually paying attention to the detail of what occurred inside Fortnum & Mason as well as to the specific evidence given by the individuals upon whose cases he was supposed to decide individually, Beddoe’s judgment in the end rests upon the same ground as that of trials A and B the first time round.
The convictions hinge upon the idea that the protesters, after trespassing, were aware that acts intended to intimidate people were occurring and that, by being in very roughly the same place as these (supposed) acts, they ‘encouraged others by their presence’ to commit them.
Because Beddoe payed some attention to the evidence offered by the protestors in this case, he had to spin some very partial narratives of what each defendant ‘must’ have known in order to arrive at a palatable vision of common enterprise. The only defence he would admit – after taking it upon himself to doubt the intelligence and sincerity of everyone involved – was naïveté.
If you had been on another UKUncut action, you were guilty (because you must have known immediately that this one was in some way totally different and then did not leave). If you were at Millbank, you were guilty (because you must have known that ‘breakaway events’ can ‘turn ugly’ and then did not leave). If you recited a poem, you were guilty (because ‘if it was a poem … it was polemical in tone and delivered as a rant’, giving Beddoe all the information he required concerning the aggressive slant of your mind).
If Beddoe judged that any defendant might have had any reason to expect one thing or another from the occupation and if, in Beddoe’s judgment, those expectations were not immediately met, then that defendant was guilty (or in one case, if not guilty, a cause for ‘concern’) of doing things to intimidate Fortnum & Mason staff.
Beddoe’s instinctive sympathies were suggested when he snapped at a defence barrister, thinking that the latter might be suggesting that obstructing a railway line was a more serious offence than disrupting the money-making activity of a retail business (though in fact that law recognizes that it is, and this was all the barrister was arguing). In this respect at least, he differs little from Judge Evans (who presided over the first run of trial B), for whom UKUncut activists were ‘breathtakingly arrogant’ in presuming they had a right to protest against the cuts at all.
What established for Beddoe and the two lay magistrates who sat with him that the Fortnum & Mason occupation was entirely different to any previous UKUncut action? There was a lack of ‘creativity’ and ‘quality’; some of those inside wore masks held placards, and engaged in chanting ‘beyond the mission statement’. The manager of the restaurant was ‘scared’, he told the court, because he didn’t know what to expect, because there were chants of ‘anarchy’ and negative remarks about the royal family.
The judgment underscores a now-familiar line: the courts can decide what protest should be (or should have been) and prosecute anyone who deviates from that picture – a picture now supposed to be the property of the protestors themselves.