The cases against five Occupy London protesters charged with public order offences during a peaceful demonstration outside the Bank of England have been thrown out of court after the judge deemed their arrests at the hands of police “snatch-squads” to be unlawful.
The protesters were not cautioned and, while City of London Police officers suspected that some people within the group were breaching an order put in place by senior police on the ground, the individual arresting officers could not say whether the people they arrested were themselves in breach.
“This outcome raises real concerns about the appropriateness of the policing of peaceful protest and in particular, the policing of the Occupy movement,” said the five defendants’ lawyer Sashy Nathan of Bindmans LLP.
Officers were deployed in small squads to arrest individual protesters after attempting to disperse the demonstration because senior police said they saw it as infringing on the rights of people working in The City.
All five were arrested after police put in place a Section 14 order, which applies when the senior officer believes a demonstration is about to turn violent, damage property or disrupt the lives of the local community. Notice was given and, when police believed it was being ignored, they sent in officers to make arrests. The prosecution argued that it was not safe for officers to caution the arrestees on the spot.
However, the defendants said that they failed to comply only because they were not aware of the notice. They also argued that the officers who made the arrests did not know why they were doing so because they were not present when the order was made. It is only an offence to knowingly fail to comply with an order made under Section 14 of the Public Order Act.
Throwing the case out, District Judge Lachhar at Hammersmith Magistrates’ Court said: “The Officers should have, as part of their duty, told defendants why they were being arrested. They should have been cautioned.”
She added that one officer was able to stop and converse with protesters but “was not able to give details about arrest which is worrying. Directed on the evidence before me, as far as I am concerned, as far as the arrests are concerned, they are unlawful”.
Disctrict Judge Lachhar said: “It is clear that these defendants were not being threatening, violent or aggressive and therefore they should have been told.”
The arrests were made as demonstrators participated in the “Meet the 1%” protest on 12 May this year. Matthew Varnham, a legal observer for Occupy London who was present, said: “It appears that all the critical decisions had been made at the very top and that those decisions were made in advance, with the police on the ground not able to use their judgement to assess whether a crime was actually being committed.
He added that the arrests constituted “political policing and it has no place in our society”. He said: “What happened in court was important. Not only did the judge dismiss the charges, she ruled that the police had fallen short of the standards the public has a right to expect.”
In March, Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer said he wanted to protect the “age-old tradition of peaceful protest” and issued guidance he said would “help prosecutors to differentiate between violent or disruptive offenders who risk causing damage and injury to others, and those whose intent was essentially peaceful”.
A spokesman for the City of London Police did not respond to requests for comment.