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More seriously organised criminals

Nearly a year after Maya Evans became the first person to be criminalised under Section 132 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 for demonstrating without authorisation the “designated area” around Parliament, she and three others appealed against their convictions at the High Court on 16 November.

Lawyers for the four argued that the enforcement of SOCPA was disproportionate in the, very peaceful, circumstances in which they were demonstrating. If they lose their appeal, Maya and her colleague Milan Rai have stated that they will refuse to pay their fines and will risk prison sentences.

Circle the wagons (tents)

On 29 October, a 24-hour peace camp (pictured) took place opposite Parliament, demanding “No More Fallujahs” and an end to the occupation on Iraq, two years after the largest and most devastating assault on the Iraqi city by US forces.

After issuing warnings shortly after the camp started, the police approached individuals to ask for their details in order to report them to the CPS. When protesters refused they were arrested but released without charge and returned to the camp. Galvanised by the police action, the group formed their 25 tents into a circle and continued discussions on how to oppose the occupation of Iraq. Faced with a cohesive and peaceful camp, and having made a token number of arrests, the police left the scene.

After a peaceful night, some campers leafleted the busy streets while Milan and Maya managed to complete a three hour name reading ceremony opposite Downing Street without arrest, despite warnings from the police. The police preferred to reserve the right to press charges later by instructing the pair to attend police interviews.

Military SOCPA

While continuing challenges to the operation of Section 132 of SOCPA seem to have made the Metropolitan Police increasingly unsure how to, or if they want to, enforce it, police around military bases are starting to use Section 128. This part of SOCPA criminalises trespass on “designated sites” around the most significant military and nuclear bases in the country.

Following the arrest of Helen John and Sylvia Boyes at Menwith Hill, the US spy base in North Yorkshire, in April this year, eight activists were arrested under Section 128 in October when they entered RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk to expose the suspected presence of cluster bombs at a weapons storage facility. The group blocked the store with their bodies, locking onto each other using D-locks, tubes and chains.

  • Brian Haw, whose vigil for peace and justice in Iraq has now been going for five years, will be in court on 11 December for breaking conditions imposed on his protest by the police under SOCPA. See www.parliament-square.org.uk
  • Helen John and Sylvia Boyes will be on trial on 9-11 January 2007 at Harrogate Magistrates Court
  • Read a review of Maya Evans's book, Naming the Dead - A Serious Crime, on p13.