Placard stunt 'like Nazi Germany'

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The Independent Online

A human rights campaigner today warned of the dangers of "ignoring the due process of law" after a businessman who "humiliated" a member of staff by forcing him to parade in public wearing a placard saying "thief" was landed with a £13,000 legal bill.

Roger Smith, director of legal campaign group Justice, said everyone - including criminals and suspected criminals - had rights and no one should take the law into their own hands.

He was speaking after Simon Cremer, who runs a floor-fitting business in Witham, Essex, revealed that he had settled a damages case launched by ex-employee Mark Gilbert.

"It is not an airy-fairy thing, human rights," said Mr Smith. "We ignore the due process of law at our peril because it will come back to bite us if we do not get it right."

He added: "The police are there to investigate and the state prosecutes. If people are not happy about the way cases are investigated and prosecuted they can and should complain.

"But we don't want a society where people take responsibility for doing that sort of thing themselves.

"The photographs of this man wearing the placard bought to mind some unpleasant images - of people in Iran and China and, much as I dislike saying it, of Jews in Nazi Germany."

Mr Cremer hit the headlines in September 2008 after accusing Mr Gilbert of writing an £845 company cheque to himself.

He forced Mr Gilbert to wear a sign saying "THIEF. I stole £845. Am on my way to the police station" and escorted him through Witham.

Mr Gilbert was arrested on suspicion of theft and later accepted a police caution.

Mr Cremer was accused of false imprisonment along with three other men. Prosecutors later dropped the charges and the four men agreed to be bound over to keep the peace.

Prosecutor Frank O'Toole told a district judge in Colchester in December 2008 that legal guidelines suggested Mr Gilbert had been "inappropriately" punished by being given a caution.

He said the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had decided to withdraw the false imprisonment allegations to bring "proportionality" to the case.

Mr Gilbert launched a civil claim for damages, which Mr Cremer said had been settled out of court.

Mr Cremer said he had agreed to pay Mr Gilbert £5,000 compensation. He said when legal costs were added he would be left with a £13,000 bill.

He said he had no option but to settle as fighting the claim would have been too expensive.