... and the law lost

IssueJuly - August 2009
Feature by Chris Bluemel

On 5 June, Brighton magistrates court acquitted me of assaulting a police constable (PC) in the course of his duty at the “Carnival Against the Arms Trade” in Brighton on 4 June 2008. They upheld my defence of self-defence in the face of unlawful and excessive force by the police.

At the demonstration itself, a security breach led to a gate being opened, and protesters flooded into the car park. Massive police numbers were deployed in removing them. I was one of the last people to leave, and I actually said: “I am going to leave now”, before walking out of the gate.

As I did so, I was suddenly attacked by several officers, who beat me repeatedly with batons and pushed me to the ground. I jumped up and hit the nearest officer in the face. It couldn’t have been more out of character. But I was firstly terrified, and secondly angry that well-armed police were beating up unarmed protesters with impunity. I went home with this weighing heavily on my conscience.

Two months later, the police raided my home. They accused me of ABH [assault occasioning “actual bodily harm” – Eds] and conspiracy to commit criminal damage. They also seized campaign materials and computers, one of which belonged to my housemate who was not involved.

I was subsequently charged with assaulting a PC and common assault, in the alternative. It was alleged that I had “loosened a tooth”; hardly realistic, given my lack of muscular strength. In any case, I pleaded “not guilty”, on grounds of self-defence.

In court, PC Dugan admitted he had used his baton on lots of people at the demonstration, and even that it might have included me. There was no medical evidence of his loosened tooth.

After the incident, he had stayed on duty and arrested people – obviously badly injured! He had not made a statement until six days later. He claimed the car park was full of debris from protesters, but retracted this when presented with pictures showing that this was not the case.

Other officers who came to give evidence simply “didn’t see everything that happened”. I gave my account of events, including how I had taken my violin to the demo for peaceful music-making.

The court was also presented with a psychologist’s report on my Asperger syndrome. On the second day of the trial, I brought character witnesses to the court, including the principal of the college where I teach, who prioritised the court over a meeting with the shadow minister for education.

The magistrates ruled that the police had used excessive and unlawful force, and I had acted reasonably in the circumstances. They also said that the officers’ evidence was “vague and contradictory”, whereas my evidence was “consistent, honest and very credible”. Both charges were dismissed.

Outside court, I asked the officer who raided my house to apologise for the distress the case had caused me. He had no comment to make, and disappeared rapidly. I am now taking advice on action against Sussex Police.