Moved On For Having A Table

From Worcester Evening News 17th October 2007.

A PROTEST group that has peacefully demonstrated in Worcester city centre almost every week for two years have been removed by police – for setting up a table.

Members of the Worcester Stop the War Coalition and passers-by were left in shock when police officers threatened the protesters with arrest unless they moved on.

Secretary Neil Laurenson said the group, which opposes the war on terror, were told they were obstructing shoppers. However, he denies they were a nuisance to members of the public especially when buskers were performing in the same area outside the Guildhall, High Street.

advertisement “There was two of us and a pasting table with a flag attached to it,” he said. “We set up just after 2pm and at about 3pm a sergeant and two other officers asked us to leave. It was quite intimidating actually. If we didn’t move they were going to arrest us. Members of the public were in shock.”

Mr Laurenson said he was surprised the police came down on the group so hard and added he is worried their right to free speech is being quashed.

“There was a massive Indian band in the middle of the High Street and the christian guy had a massive sandwich board so it seems like there’s one rule for one and one rule for another,” he said. “It’s extremely worrying. Three members of the public came up to us and asked why we were being moved on and there was a guy who came after us who said he didn’t agree with us but said we had a right to our opinion.”

As a result, Mr Laurenson said he has written to the chief superintendent to get some feedback.

“It’s not like we were megaphoning people, we weren’t even leafleting,” he said. “People come up to us and we give them a leaflet if they want one. People sign the petition and if they ask a question we answer it. We are not actually harassing them in a verbal way or physically obstructing them – there’s only a pasting table and the High Street is massive.”

A police spokesman said: “We have no intention to interfere with an individual’s right to protest. In this instance, however, those involved had been refused permission by Worcester City Council to use a table in their activities.

“They were informed that they could continue without the table. A group of nearby buskers – who are in a different category in terms of their actions in a public place – had permission from the local authority to perform.”

Worcester City Council said it has no problem with peaceful protesters in principal but asked anybody wanting to use the city’s streets to ask for permission.

Mr Laurenson said he is now in the process of applying for permission and the group intend to be back in Worcester city centre in three weeks time.

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