Blunkett changes law to evict Commons anti-war protester

Colin Brown,Deputy Political Editor
Thursday 04 November 2004 01:00

Britain's most persistent anti-war protester yesterday shouted defiance through his megaphone at the Commons after MPs were told a new Act of Parliament will be used to outlaw his one-man demonstration.

Britain's most persistent anti-war protester yesterday shouted defiance through his megaphone at the Commons after MPs were told a new Act of Parliament will be used to outlaw his one-man demonstration.

The Leader of the House, Peter Hain, said that the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, would introduce a clause in the Organised Crime Bill designed to evict Brian Haw, 55, from the spot he has occupied for three years, outside the main gates of the Houses of Parliament. The Bill will ban permanent daytime demonstrations and megaphones in Parliament Square. It will be a criminal offence to defy the law.

Yesterday, Mr Haw gave his reply through his megaphone. "It's not a crime to be crying out outside our Parliament gates," he shouted. "You would make me a criminal? I am a Godfather? This is my weapon of mass information. Blunkett wants an Act of Parliament to deal with serious organised crime. The FBI have a public enemy number in America and Blunkett has decided I am Britain's public enemy number one. And his evidence: I have megaphone. And this display: it is the Westminster United Nations Art Gallery."

Mr Haw has kept up his vigil in all weathers. His voice has cut through the increasing security around Westminster to the annoyance of cabinet ministers and many MPs. In a break from haranguing the MPs, he said: "US Senator Edward Kennedy's son was here and he told me 'This is about love, Brian'. Antony Gormley the artist was here and he was in awe at what he saw. He recognised art, and the expressions of the heart, and the love and the hopes of people all over the world, expressed in 30 languages, expressed in their own beautiful words."

Mr Haw, an evangelical Christian, who went to Cambodia to protest against the killing fields before the rise of Pol Pot, has spent 1,250 days at Westminster, acting as the public conscience for the war on Iraq. His relentless chant, "45 minutes Mr B-liar" left MPs on all sides demanding his removal. But the High Court threw out previous attempts to evict him.

"Judge Moses and Judge Gray, two High Court judges of our land, said this protest was legal. 'There is no pressing social reason to interfere with Mr Brian Haw's display', Judge Gray said." There was another attempt to remove him in May when police destroyed his placards and peace banners before the state visit of the Chinese Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao.

"The police failed in their duty," Mr Haw said. "They were not to interfere in this right of human expression. It was turned into a pile of garbage to save Mr Blair's face when the Chinese Premier was here, because Mr Blair wanted to scold him about human rights abuses in China. We British, don't we love to take the piss. There are human rights abuses in China but Tony Blair is not the one to lecture."

Mr Haw has been visited by well-wishers from around the world, including Afghanistan, and has helpers, including an Asian man with a military bearing who stands silently with a protest sign every Tuesday morning. The women arrive on Wednesday evenings, and there are his special friends, including Zenab, an Iraqi girl who lost a leg in a bomb blast in Basra.

He has paid a heavy price for his vigil. His wife, Kay, divorced him and he misses his family in Redditch, Worcestershire. He regrets not being there for his son Peter's 18th birthday, and his graduation day (he has a sports degree). One daughter phoned him to say she missed him.

"It strikes a dagger through my heart," he said. Then he turned back to the blank windows of the Commons with his megaphone. "Yes Mr Blunkett, I will cry out against genocide. I will not give way."

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