Protesters cleared of Fortnum and Mason trespass


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The Independent Online

Eight protesters who were accused of occupying Fortnum and Mason during an anti-cuts demonstration last year were today acquitted of 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 during a previous trial that activists organised the March 26 occupation of the shop on Twitter as they believed it was guilty of tax avoidance.

But while a number of the demonstrators were tried in separate proceedings and convicted of aggravated trespass, eight have been found not guilty, a court official said.

District Judge Quentin Purdy ruled that Lewis McNeil, 30, of Navarino Road in Hackney, east London; Robert Tresidder, 66, of West End in Matlock, Derbyshire; Rosemary Slay, 23, of Albion Road in Stoke Newington, east London; Robert Safar, 28, of Kirkwall Place in Bethnal Green, east London; Stephen Reid, 26, of Tatum Street in Walworth, south London; Josephine Whitaker, 25, of Temple Road, Oxford; Alexander Wood, 26, of Frobisher Road in Haringey, north London; and Joseph Whitfield, 25, of King's College, Cambridge, did not commit a public order offence.

Mr Reid said afterwards: "The judge today recognised our legitimate right to protest. He listened carefully to the evidence, and we're delighted that he found us not guilty.

"It is absurd that other people who did exactly the same as us were found guilty while we weren't. As cuts begin to bite, we will continue our fight to ensure that the wealthiest pay their fair share of tax."

The first two groups of defendants, who were found guilty, are appealing against their convictions at the High Court and crown court, UK Uncut said.

The group said 145 people who took part in the protest were arrested outside the store.

"Most had charges dropped, but 19 have been found guilty and eight not guilty, despite each being tried for the same crime," it said in a statement.

Fortnum and Mason declined to comment on today's result.