Voices from the Occupation
Ms Mendoza’s Feeling for Snow
Tuesday 22nd November was the big day in court for those arrested for standing outside parliament on 5th November, and for Occupying Trafalgar Square on 9th November 2011. While none of us were looking forward to this day, we had no idea 11 of us would be spending any time in the cells. This article, written by one of the defendants, recreates the experience of this awful day for justice, under the misguided and abused authority of District Judge Michael Snow.
On 26th March this year, a group of UK Uncut protesters, occupied a Fortnum & Masons store. Why? Because while government is falling over itself to privatise and slash our public services under the guise of austerity, it is giving enormous tax breaks to very powerful corporations. Fortnum & Masons are one such company. The UKUncut crew danced, played music, held banners and handed out leaflets to customers and staff in the store to make them aware of the scandal which does not get discussed in mainstream media.
The onsite police called the demonstrators ‘sensible’ and ‘polite’ – a very British demonstration. In this civilised air the protesters were asked to leave the store, together and they would not be arrested. This was a lie. Once they left the building they were kettled, arrested, banged up and charged with Aggravated Trespass.
Just last week, District Judge Michael Snow, despite all this evidence and a Crown Prosecution Service request to reduce the charge, decided to find the protesters guilty. This means a criminal record, a conditional discharge, each had to pay £1000 towards the prosecution costs and a fine. Not to mention the emotional impact from arrest to trial and beyond. All this for daring to stand in a department store and ask why it wasn’t paying taxes. There has been limited but impassioned retaliation to this verdict across the liberal and social media sources, but most people still are not aware.
It is seen as portentous of the death of peaceful protest. Law makers and law enforcers seem hell bent on making anything but the most benign and ineffective protest illegal, to all intents and purposes making peaceful protest illegal by default.
So, walking into Court 7 at Westminster Magistrates Court, I was particularly unimpressed to see District Judge Michael Snow presiding over my own appearance for Illegal Protest.
The list caller called the 11 guys arrested at Trafalgar Square first. Dukes wore an ill fitting suit he’d bought from a charity shop; ‘I saved a life by coming to court!’ he joked with me before we went in. Ed Colenutt however was wearing a sleeping bag. He hopped into court and was almost immediately set upon by Snow. He was told to remove himself from the sleeping bag, to which he retorted ‘Under which law?’ After some minutes of debate and gruff exchanges he was locked into the plexi-glass dock with the other 10.
Judge Snow continued to goad the men in the dock. Making them repeat themselves, berating them for not standing and sitting at the right time, when they were 11 men in a dock with 5 seats in it. While talking with Van Eck, Judge Snow demanded he remove his hands from his pockets. Van Eck looked at him questioningly and said ‘why?’ Judge Snow continued to demand he remove his hands from his pockets. At this point, a clearly upset Leon Pipe couldn’t take his eyes off the Judge. Judge Snow noticed this and accused him of 'glaring'. Leon took a step back, looked upwards and said he was just looking – at which point Judge Snow addressed the Court Clerk.
“Can we get the jailers up here now please?”
An audible ripple of shock crossed the public gallery and the dock, with mumbled voices saying ‘this is outrageous’ etc. At this point, a door opened in the back of the dock, several large officers came through and all 11 of the defendants were seized and taken to the cells.
This was a case of simple, good old fashioned bullying. Leon was no threat to the Judge. He was locked behind plexi glass in a dock. Judge Snow had done everything he could to provoke the merest glimmer of a response from the defendants…and when he felt he got it, he revelled in it. It is stressful enough being taken into a dock, worse still to be crowded into one. You are locked in, it’s cold, you can barely hear the conversations happening about you in the courtroom. You are dealing with a lot. What you don’t need, is a bully on top of that pushing your buttons.
With that, it was our turn. Me, Pedro and James wondered into the dock where we were locked in. To our stunned disbelief, the door in back of the dock opened and three guards came through and circled us. It’s bad enough being locked in a box, without being kettled at the same time. We looked to the guards and asked why they were there.
“We’re just doing our job, you don’t need to ask us any questions” responded one. I turned to him and responded.
“What you need to understand is that we are in a really stressful situation here. Our friends have just been sent to the cells, we’ve been locked in a box. It’s incredibly dehumanising, and now, on top of that I’m feeling really intimidated by your presence. So I might have some questions about that.”
He shrugged his shoulders and the three of us looked at each other and our supporters in the gallery, frankly, open mouthed.
The following scene can only be characterised as pathetic, shambolic and ridiculous. The senior prosecutor present announced to the court that he had not read the brief. The full burdensome extent of the case against us is two one and a half page police statements. So, we have paid travel fares to come in from York, Finsbury Square and Farnborough, for the prosecutor not to have read 3 pages of information in advance.
Each time Mr Hall, the senior prosecutor spoke, he was actually laughing.
We had reasons to be optimistic about this day. The Prosecutor was completely unprepared. The SOCPA Law which we are being tried under was repealed in February this year and is simply awaiting removal from the statute. We are in possession of the letter of authorisation provided by the Metropolitan Police sufficiently in advance of the march.
In short, we are three people of good character who have a clear case that we didn’t break a dead law. Where is the public interest in pursuing this to trial?
District Judge Michael Snow disagreed. We are now going to trial on March 28th-29th 2012. The Trafalgar boys were bailed from their cells to return for trial April 4th-6th 2012. District Judge Michael Snow requested he sit both trials. We have been informed we have no case under law to request an alternative judge as we can’t prove in law that he is biased against us personally.
So, inside of what I can only assume, is Judge Snow’s personal penchant for criminalising peaceful protest, we are now next in his sights. We have no jury to appeal to as it is a Magistrates Court. But I know what we do have. We have clean consciences.
Judge Snow may well get his day in court with us, he may very well find us guilty of a crime. But it won’t stop there. I make this promise. I will appeal this with every recourse open to me, and I will refuse to let it impact upon my stand to protest for a world based on contribution, equality and compassion over one motivated by profit.
To be clear, Judge Snow, you may well be finding me in your court more and more in the near future, because we are all sick of bullies like you. In our parliament, in our courts, in our workplaces, in our media, telling us what to do, when, how and with whom. We are sick of sky high prices and gutter wages. We are sick of the language of freedom being used to cloak the policy of oppression. We are sick of corporate welfare – of privatised profits and socialised losses. We are done. We’ve had it. To put it in the words popularised by the movie The Network – ‘I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!’
The thing is, for every Judge Snow, there are ten Leon Pipes, Ed Colenutts, and you's. People who stand FOR people and not against them. People with big hearts, creative minds and the courage to bring both to bear on the world. What we are creating now is a tidal wave of humanity; the force of which will sweep away the detritus in our system and reshape the world in ways that right now, we can but imagine. The first thing, is for apathy and cynicism to be put aside - replace it with an unflinching commitment. You can change the world, you do so simply by existing.