I don’t appear in Court

October 21st started off uncomfortably for me, though nothing like as stressful as it must have been for Lisa McKenzie, in whose trial at Stratford Magistrates Court I was due to appear as a witness for the defence.

I’d been photographing the Class War ‘Poor Doors’ protest on April 2nd at One Commercial St when she was arrested and charged with criminal damage for having put a sticker on the window during a protest two weeks earlier, and I’d also covered that previous event, paying particular attention to her, not just because she is one of the livelier of the Class War circle, but because she was of particular news interest for standing as the Class War candidate against DWP minister Iain Duncan Smith in May’s general election.

So I had taken a great many photographs of her on the evening in question, and would certainly have photographed her putting up a sticker had she done so – rather than just holding up posters.  I hadn’t kept every picture I’d taken that night, but there were enough to show that she never had the two hands free that putting up a sticker needs to peel off the backing paper.

Initially there was also a second charge, a public order offence of causing alarm by holding up the poster showing cemetery crosses with the message ‘We have found new homes for the rich’ but it was hard to take that seriously, not least because the police had not taken action against so many doing exactly the same thing.

But a few days before the trial, the police and CPS seriously upped the ante, charging her also with ‘Joint Enterprise with Persons Unknown‘ of causing criminal damage. Joint Enterprise is an ancient principle of law which was revived to deal with duels 300 years ago and used in recent years to convict gang members of murder in trials where there is no evidence against them personally, leading to considerable injustice.

A little over a month ago the UK Supreme court ruled it to have been wrongly applied in many of these cases, thanks in part to a long campaign by JENGbA, short for Joint Enterprise – NOT Guilty By Association, who I’d photographed on a couple of protests. Never before had been used against anyone taking part in a political protest – and if successful would severely threaten the right to protest, with Lisa possibly having her freedom of speech and movement limited by a  Criminal Behaviour Order for up to 5 years.

I wasn’t looking forward to having to appear in court – I’ve never been a witness before, and hadn’t slept well, and having to get up early to travel across London didn’t help. At the court I had to hand in my cameras at the reception desk, and then just to sit around while the trial proceeded for several hours.

That the police really had no case became obvious when I was told that they had added another charge against her, relating to a protest on March 12th. I had my phone with me, and was able to look up my pictures on My London Diary, which confirmed that Lisa was not even present on that day. But the police withdrew that charge before the case started.

The first session of the court looked at some video produced by police at the last minute (and not shown to the defence) and threw out the Joint Enterprise and the public order offence, allowing only the charge of criminal damage to proceed – with the police alleging the cost of removing a small sticker to be £50.

The court heard the prosecution evidence from police and the concierge at One Commercial St, after which the defence barrister was told that nothing he could say or evidence he could present would change the verdict. I didn’t have to take to the witness box and Lisa was pronounced ‘not guilty’

I felt both elated and a little disappointed, having being keying myself up for so long to give evidence, but as soon as I heard the verdict rushed to the reception desk to reclaim my cameras and photograph Lisa and ‘persons unknown’ as the left the court.

But I soon felt better, as we celebrated her victory in the pub. It was the second case in which police have brought charges against people taking a prominent role in the Poor Doors protests which the courts have thrown out, and since then a third case has had a similar outcome. It is had to entertain any conclusion other than that these arrests and charges have been politically motivated.

Lisa shows a spread of my ‘Poor Doors’ magazine’ in the pub after her acquittal

More at Lisa McKenzie Not Guilty!


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

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