Hertford Magistrates criticise Police

On Monday (6th Nov), an animal rights protestor was up before the magistrates of Hertford for a breach of section 14 of the Public Order Act.

Basically he had not done as an officer had told him during a demonstration at GSK’s site in Ware, Hertfordshire on 16th June, 2006.

The trial was a personal embarrassment for Chief Inspector Richard Harbin of Hertfordshire’s police, and his sidekick Insp. Julia Wheatley. In cross-examination, the defence solicitor Tim Walker of the firm Sonn Macmillian Walker, pushed both Harbin and Wheatley over their reasons and methods of imposing the sec. 14. Both were forced to admit that part of their orders were unlawful, this despite Harbin having 20 years experience in public order policing.

Furthermore, it was clear that Richard Harbin had authorised the Stevenage sec.14 in advance by himself, and not the Chief Constable as required by law. However, he did resort to the classic defence of “I don’t remember” and was unable to demonstrate a correctly signed copy of the order.

Without a correctly authorised notice, this means that the police had unlawfully restricted those attending the protest at Stevenage.

The day of protest had been organised by Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty to protest at companies still involved in the notorious animal research laboratory Huntingdon Life Sciences. The police were informed six days prior to the protests that they were going to happen and the venues. In their incompetence, they applied only one sec.14 order to the GSK (the multinational pharmaceutical GlaxoSmithKline) site at Stevenage. They forgot to invoke them for the others, though, as they admitted in court, they had powers to impose restrictions through out the county for the day.

Under cross-examination the reasons given by Harbin and Wheatley for imposing the restrictions was to “control the protestors” and to prevent noise. They invoked the clause “for the prevention of serious public disruption to the life of the community” as reason for applying the sec.14. However, this was also unjustified by the behaviour of the protestors who though noisy, remained peaceful in nature throughout the day.

The act states that the police must fear the organisers were planning disruption, and not individuals who might attend the protest, yet it was made clear by the police that they did not expect the organisers to be of trouble, but feared the latter (unjustified in our own experience). This was based on consultation of the Scotland Yard based National Public Order Intelligence Unit and Special Branch though not disclosed.

Mr Walker made the point that the police consider sec.14 as simply another tool to restrict the right of protest, and from the evidence of Harbin and Wheatley that was certainly appeared to be the attitude.

It was only when protestors turned up at the second site of the day, GSK in Ware, was it realised that there was not a sec.14 in place. Sergeant Mann, who was already at the site, rapidly imposed one on the grounds of fearing disruption to a local school. Well, initially Sgt (now Inspector) Mann stated it was because of all the other building around, but that excuse rapidly crumbled as it was demonstrated that his desire to control impact the noise of twenty-three protestors and four megaphones on surrounding buildings was simply not affected by restraining the protestors to remain in the centre of them all. This left a nearby school, but even then his evidence did not add up chronologically, the section 14 being imposed before he properly spoke to the headmaster who then said he would find out if exams would be disrupted.

The defendant at the time of his arrest was challenging the lawfulness of Mann’s imposition of a sec.14 and was unaware of any school nearby. However, the magistrates found that Sgt Mann’s sec. 14 was lawfully applied despite the distorted chronology of events, and thus found the defendant guilty of breaching it. Total fine and costs came to £800 for simply questioning the police.

Nevertheless, Hertfordshire’s top public order officers came out of the case having to admit in open court that their actions on the day were unlawful, and were criticised by the magistrates.

Original article taken from Indymedia 7th November 2006

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