Police swoop on five-year protest

IssueJune 2006
Feature by Emma Sangster, Rikki Blue

On 8 May, Brian Haw's exemption from the ban on unauthorised protest under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA) came to an end.

The Home Office won an appeal against last year's High Court decision that the Act could not be applied retrospectively and Brian's protest has, in theory, been brought under police control.

Attempts at control

Despite media headlines to the effect that this would be the end of Brian's epic stand against this government's foreign policy protest he has remained with his display opposite parliament.
    How does he do it? Well, Brian “notified” the police that he would be continuing his protest and the legislation says that permission must be granted when an application is received. However, it is the extensive conditions that can be imposed which effectively neuter a protest. The police have pursued this course and given Brian a list of conditions that range from the unlikely to the impossible, including that he must reduce his display to three metres in any direction and that all items must be on display “at a glance” and cannot be concealed by any other item.

Failure to comply

When Brian did not comply with these conditions, he was reported to the Crown Prosecution Service. The police have passed on the decision about how to deal with the situation, avoiding for the moment a high profile arrest. Brian has now received a summons to attend Bow Street Magistrates Courts on 30 May at 10am for failing to comply with the SOCPA conditions.
    In the meantime, Brian and his legal team will be deciding whether to petition the House of Lords for an appeal against the recent judgement and may seek a judicial review of the conditions imposed.

“Because I can”

Since the judgement, supporters have been staying in the Square day and night with little interference from the police. The sense of resistance and celebration was reinforced with a gathering held on 14 May to show solidarity with Brian. Although this demonstration was unauthorised, the police chose to ignore it. But one incident occurred that should convince anyone who doubts that the police act with political direction. On 17 May, a police officer and two community support officers came to remove the hand bell that Brian has been ringing out regularly - in lieu of the megaphone now totally banned under SOCPA. When Brian asked why they were taking it, the officer first replied “because I can”. He then said the action was “following orders from the chief inspector”. Finally he said, “you can have the bell back in six minutes”. During that six minutes, who else but Tony Blair should pass by in his car for Prime Minister's Questions in Parliament.
    The incident descended into farce when an officer claimed he had been scratched by the bell in the scuffle and the bell had to be retained as evidence. On complaining to a Chief Inspector, Brian was told that the action had been to “prevent the bell being used as a potential missile”. Later when the bell was returned it was found that the dinger inside it had mysteriously gone missing.

Five years on...

At the beginning of June, Brian will have stood his ground against the elements, hostile passers-by and numerous attempts by the authorities to remove him, for five years. There will be a celebration on Friday 2 June from late afternoon to mark this courageous achievement. All welcome.