Two Southampton Students convicted over Fortnum & Mason UK Uncut protest

Posted on November 21, 2011 by

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Two students from Southampton have been convicted of aggravated trespass, on the basis that protesting might have intimidated staff despite being dubbed ‘sensible’ by police at the seen, for their role in the Fortnum & Mason UK Uncut protest during the March 26th Anti-cuts march .

The two are of only ten protesters out of 145 who have been successfully convicted for the action, which has received controversial media coverage and prosecution tactics.

Ten of the Fortnum and Mason 145 were found guilty of “Aggravated Trespass” with Judge Snow saying that they intimidated F&M staff. They were part of the 145 people arrested during the end of the ukuncut planned occupation of Fortnum and Mason during the massive anti cuts demonstrations on March26th 2011.  Charges against the majority of arrestees have been dropped since as a result of a lack of evidence for disorder.

They were staging a sit-in at the shop to highlight the stores alleged tax-avoidance schemes worth in the tens of billions.  UK Uncut target shops of companies engaged in such schemes as they suggest that if the government clamped down on these legal tax avoidance operations the current round of public spending cuts would be unnecessary.

During the protest very little damage occurred, with most people engaged in sitting on the floor and chanting. Some items were accidentally damaged due to sheer number of people in the shop but shoppers present were able to carry on their business, illustrating the limited problems created by the protest.

However, mainstream coverage of the protests misrepresented them as violent protesters trying to smash up the shop, with even the Home Secretary Therese May including them in the figures of arrests of violent demonstrators.

Police tactics at the protest have also been criticised, with top coppers negotiating with the UK uncutters on the day convincing them to leave without threat of arrest (with compliments from policemen present to the protesters on their peacefulness and willingness to negotiate) but then aggressively arresting them outside and charging them all with aggravated trespass.

Adam Ramsay was one of the ten people found guilty of aggravated trespass last Thursday, and told Red Pepper magazine that:

“Today, along with nine others, I was found guilty of ‘entering Fortnum & Mason and demonstrating’. I was given a conditional discharge for six months and ordered to pay £1000 of the prosecution’s legal costs. Over the last year, many of my friends have been fined, jailed, or beaten to a pulp by the police for such crimes as hanging banners from bridges, or having the audacity to be a journalist reporting on a protest…

I maintain I committed no crime. But even if you wholly accept the case that the CPS presented- after days spent trawling through CCTV footage in an attempt to prove something more – all I did was go into a shop and facilitate a meeting. How does this compare with recklessly endangering the livelihoods and lives of millions? How does that compare with defrauding millions in order to make yourself billions? If the police have the time to intimidate protesters entering the city, why didn’t they have time ensure those who work there don’t commit fraud or embezzlement?

…Even the crime for which we were on trial – aggravated trespass – was invented in 1994 with the intention of criminalising protest. The nature of the charge meant that there was no jury – just a lone judge.”

A collective statement by those found guilty said:

“Today, the 10 of us who were on trial have been found guilty of taking part in a protest.

A protest that was dubbed ‘sensible’ by the senior police officer at the scene.

We were standing up, or more accurately sitting down, against our government making harsh cuts to public services, whilst letting companies like Fortnum and Masons get away with dodging a total of tens of billions of pounds of tax every year.

Then we are put on trial, whilst it’s clear the real criminals are the tax dodgers, the politicians and the bankers who caused this financial crisis and who continue to profit.

We are supposed to have a democratic right to protest yet people like us, exercising that right and expressing our discontent feel the force of the law and receive harsh and disproportionate sentences.

We have been convicted of Aggravated Trespass, an example of a law created in the 1990′s as an attack on our rights to protest and which is used in situations like this one to turn protesting into a crime.

We will, of course, continue to fight this and will be appealing the judgement.

As the government’s cuts continue to destroy the economy and people’s lives we will not be put off by these attempts at humiliating and punishing us.”

Sections sourced from London Indymedia and Red Pepper magazine with thanks

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Posted in: News, Southampton, Students, UK