Prosecutors to drop 'significant' number of Fortnum protest cases

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The Independent Online

A "significant" number of the hundreds of cases bought against UK Uncut activists who stormed a central London department store in March are expected to be dropped, according to prosecutors.

Yesterday the hearings against the first 30 defendants began at the City of Westminster Magistrates' Court while 70 people demonstrated outside.

In total, 139 protesters face charges of aggravated trespass, but the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced it had plans to throw out a large number of the remaining 109 charges currently under review. The news comes a week after five cases against minors aged 15-17 were dropped.

Police arrested 146 campaigners after they occupied the Fortnum & Mason store, in central London, on 26 March in protest at the company's alleged tax avoidance. Scotland Yard refused to disclose how many hours of police time had been taken up by the case, but said officers from all sectors of the force had been involved, including members of the territorial support group and forensic services.

The CPS could not confirm how many cases were likely to be withdrawn, but said a "lack of evidence" and a failure to prove the charges were in the "public interest" would be the reasons behind any cases being discontinued.

Police looked at approximately 200 hours of CCTV footage taken from inside the store. A CPS spokeswoman said: "We expect there to be a significant reduction in the number of cases going to court."

Mike Schwarz, a solicitor at Bindmans, which represents around 110 of the activists, said "all cases should be discontinued". He said: "There is nothing significant to distinguish any one defendant from another. That is the nature of peaceful civil disobedience."

Raj Chada, a solicitor at Hodge Jones & Allen, who represents 20 of the defendants, said the conditions on which the 30 cases were chosen for trial were "arbitrary". The protesters were selected if they had banners, large quantities of leaflets, or if they had been involved in similar protests before.