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Fairford Coach: the saga continues
On 22 March 2003, three coaches set off from London to protest against the bombing of Iraq by US B52s which were flying missions from RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire. Police stopped, searched, turned away, and detained the London coaches before they reached the demonstration. The police actions have consequently become the subject of an ongoing legal case which had a ruling at the Court of Appeal on the 8 of December 2004. The recent ruling was unsatisfactory to the protesters even though the court accepted that the police acted illegally by detaining the 120 coach passengers. The case is now set to advance to the highest domestic court in Britain (the House of Lords). It is hoped that a favourable ruling from the Law Lords could force police to deal with protestors in ways that do not interfere with their fundamental rights. This may not be the outcome though. The recent decision by Law Lords that the detention of the Belmarsh Detainees was illegal has still not resulted in the release of a single detainee (see story opposite).
Right to protest
The Fairford Coach is paralleled by other critical “right to protest” test cases moving through the British and US courts. The Mayday 2001 case concerning the mass detention of thousands for many hours is being heard as this paper goes to press. Like the Fairford case, it could influence the techniques and strategies employed by police at public order situations. In the US, people arrested at the Republican National Convention in 2004 are taking a case against the police for countless wrongful arrests.
And on it goes!
In a surprise twist, the Fairford Coach case may result in an additional case against police who harassed a group of people who attended the December Appeal hearing. The group of coach passengers and friends were followed from within the Royal Courts of Justice by a Metropolitan police officer (an interested party to the case). This police officer refused to go away when asked, and later arrested one member of the group after the person refused to provide their name. The case has been dropped by the police, but the arrestee is now considering suing the police.