It was back in November sometime when I discovered a phone message from someone at Charing Cross police events department asking me to return their call. Reluctant to spend money on a phone call which I didn’t really want to have, I called the number.
I found myself talking to a rather confused police officer who said they wanted to complete information for their files regarding an unauthorised demonstration I had co-organized back in October, and also the use of a megaphone in the area of Westminster. The latter charge seemed like a hilarious joke – ‘bring it on’ I thought to myself. I confirmed my address and informed the PC that it was not a legal requirement to give a date of birth. He disagreed, I insisted it was true, he then agreed!
The potential charges were from a 9 hour vigil we had done for the 9 year anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. It included a name-reading ceremony opposite Downing Street and giving out 2,000 leaflets. During the vigil the police had threatened us with obstructing the highway but thanks to Gabriel’s random pacing up and down the pavement they had shied away from this charge as he rightfully argued that his constant movement meant the pavement wasn’t obstructed.
I remember feeling flabbergasted that the police then turned to SOCPA and gave out the ominous bits of paper with the map of Westminster with the prohibited free protest zone. How is this law still in existence? Surely someone somewhere in an office had sent out a memo saying “never use this stupid law which mocks our already perforated democracy”- obviously not! We had a theory at the time that maybe Cameron was being slithery and in fact reinstituting New Labour’s foul policies…
Six months later I was scrambling around the desk in my hallway looking for a letter from my opticians about an appointment. I flicked through some old takeaway leaflets and miscellaneous junk mail to come across a letter from Horseferry Magistrates Court. Curious! I ripped it open.
“You are summons to appear at Horseferry Magistrates on 10th January 2011 for organizing an unauthorized demonstration, failure to do so will result in a warrant for your arrest”.
Holy cow! I looked out the window to see if any police were outside waiting to arrest me. All seemed clear as I peered over the sofa out the window.
I quickly phoned the court and explained that the letter had been ‘misfiled’ (ie. placed with the junk mail) and that it had only just come to my attention.
The court admin worker brought the details up on her computer. She seemed very sympathetic to my situation: “Yes the case was heard in your absence and was dismissed”. I couldn’t believe it. What a travesty! I really wanted to be done for improper use of a megaphone.
I told the admin worker all about my first SOCPA conviction and how it was unlikely anyone in authority would want a re-run of such public humiliation. She went a bit quiet. I think she was convinced!