10 found guilty over Fortnum and Mason demo

 

Ten protesters who occupied Fortnum and Mason during an anti-cuts demonstration earlier this year were today found guilty of aggravated trespass.

The luxury department store in central London was targeted by members of the UK Uncut campaign group on the day of a large TUC march in the capital.

London's City of Westminster Magistrates' Court heard protesters organised the March 26 occupation of the store on Twitter "as they believe that the store is guilty of tax avoidance".

Euan Storrar, 24, of Sheephouse Lane, Dorking, Surrey; Sebastian Jones, 20, from Southampton; Daniel Lichman, 25, of Harlesden Road, north-west London; Oliver Pope, 20, of Pentire Avenue, Southampton; Jake Colman, 22, of Pretoria Road, London; Adam Ramsay, 26, of Alyth in Perthshire; Edward Bauer, 23, of Queens Road, Fleet in Hampshire; Grainne Gannon, 29, of Prince George Road in north London; Oliver Rodker, 42, of Hamilton Road, Manchester; and Peter Speller, 26, of Campbell Road, Oxford, were among a number of protesters who rushed through the doors of the store just before 4pm.

All but Colman were given a six-month conditional discharge and told to pay £1,000 each towards costs.

Colman, who was already subject to a conditional discharge for a separate offence, was given a six-month conditional discharge, told to pay £1,000 towards costs and handed a £200 fine.

Describing the mayhem during the occupation of the shop known as the Queen's Grocer, District Judge Michael Snow told the court: "The scene inside the store was chaotic. Protesters were shouting and screaming at a very high volume."

There were chants of, "If you don't pay your taxes, shut you down", "Whose shop, our shop", and "Occupy, occupy, pay your taxes", the court heard.

Megaphones were used and, having overwhelmed police officers who were trying to keep them out of the store, protesters took over control of its Piccadilly door.

Some of the demonstrators were masked and many carried placards and were handing out flyers, District Judge Snow said.

Other protesters hung banners while drums were beaten, horns were sounded and bagpipes were played.

Tents were erected and volleyball was played across the displays.

Some goods were stolen from the store during the occupation, some were damaged and others were swept on to the floor.

Tape bearing the words "closed by UK Uncut" was wrapped around the outside of the store and around displays.

A number of staff were subjected to chants of "pay your taxes".

As a result of the protest, the store suffered lost sales amounting to £54,581, the court heard.

Other protesters, who were not among the 10 in court and were unconnected to those inside the store, climbed onto the canopy of the shop and sprayed the walls with graffiti, causing £17,000 of damage.

A decision was made to close the store and at 4.59pm a message was posted on Twitter reading: "Fortnum and Mason closed by UK Uncut."

District Judge Snow told of the terror the occupation had sparked among some caught up in it.

"Customers and staff reacted in different ways to the protest inside the store," he said.

"Some continued as if the protests were not taking place. Others were terrified, frightened, confused, angry, intimidated and tearful."

He declined to award compensation to the store however, and appeared to express some sympathy with the protesters.

"Civil disobedience has a long and entirely peaceful history in this country," he said.

"History often vindicates those involved in such acts.

"I've read a series of glowing references on behalf of every one of you. You are united by a common sense of decency."

But, he said, their protest had overstepped the limits.

"I accept that was not out of malice but because the protest was ill-judged in its form," he added.

The court heard that some of those found guilty today had previous convictions for offences related to political activism.

Among them were Bauer, who had been involved in an environmental protest at Kingsnorth power station in Kent, and Rodker, who was involved in a similar demonstration at Drax power station in North Yorkshire, prosecutors said.

But all the protesters were defiant in the wake of the verdict, vowing to appeal against their convictions and continue to fight Government spending cuts.

In a statement read outside court afterwards, they insisted the real criminals were "the tax dodgers, the politicians and the bankers who caused this financial crisis and who continue to profit".

They said: "Today, the 10 of us who were on trial have been found guilty of taking part in a protest - a protest that was dubbed 'sensible' by the senior police officer at the scene.

"We were standing up, or more accurately sitting down, against our Government making harsh cuts to public services while letting companies like Fortnum and Mason get away with dodging a total of tens of billions of pounds of tax every year."

They had been exercising their democratic right to protest, they said, but had been made to feel the force of the law and receive "harsh and disproportionate sentences".

They added: "As the Government's cuts continue to destroy the economy and people's lives we will not be put off by these attempts at humiliating and punishing us."

The protesters vowed to take their case to the High Court, but the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) denied they had simply been carrying out a peaceful protest.

Alison Saunders, CPS London chief crown prosecutor, said: "On March 26, 2011, thousands of people protested peacefully and made their point without breaking the law.

"A very small minority decided to break the law and we must not allow them to undermine the right to lawful protest.

"These protesters chose to disrupt a legitimate business, which is not a peaceful protest and is a criminal offence."

The 10 convicted today were the first of three groups of protesters charged in relation to the Fortnum and Mason occupation.

Two more trials will take place next March.

More than 130 people were originally charged but prosecutors discontinued proceedings against about 100.

Fortnum and Mason declined to comment.

The Metropolitan Police said the protesters had tried to "stop others exercising their rights".

Detective Chief Superintendent Matthew Horne said after the sentencing: "The huge demonstration on March 26 2011 saw many thousands exercise their right to protest peacefully.

"A much smaller number sought to break the law: they broke away from the march and sought to undermine the rights of a legitimate business as well as those shoppers and tourists visiting the West End.

"Maintaining order, preventing crime and ensuring public safety often require balanced judgments to be made. These defendants didn't want to exercise their right to protest, they wanted to stop others exercising their rights. The court has decided that this was unlawful."

PA

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