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Crap Convictions Of The Week

For sitting pretty in a shop...

On Thursday (19th) ten of the thirteen Fortnum & Mason defendants (see SchNEWS 777) were found guilty of aggravated trespass following their occupation against tax-avoidance of the store during the M26 anti-cuts protest.

The unlucky UK-Uncut activists had been whittled down from an initial 145 arrested, the vast majority of which had their charges dropped. The police had been quite explicit about the reasoning for choosing the ten: as always, regardless of your own personal actions, they’re looking for ‘organisers’. This blatant attempt to give politically active people the heebie-jeebies filtered its way up to Westminster magistrates court (read: no public jury) where the decisions were tenuous in the extreme.

Found guilty in part on the premise that the individuals intended to ‘intimidate’ staff, customers and police, the magistrates then admitted that the defendants themselves hadn’t done anything intimidating... Instead, their crime was failing to scarper past the luxury jams - and the impenetrable cop kettle - back on to Oxford Street as soon as they suspected their comrades of disrespecting the holy temple of silver napkin rings and Easter eggs. They were also told they had encouraged the actions of others ‘by their presence’. Well, as far as SchNEWS could see, there was no magic circle of Derren Brown-alike puppet-masters.

In the verdict, the magistrates mentioned the need to balance the right to peaceful protest against the right to ‘legitimate business’ and found in favour of the latter – using a conveniently loose definition of ‘legitimate’ and a conveniently hard-line, capitalist-favouring misinterpretation of ‘peaceful’. Those convicted have been sentenced to a six-month conditional discharge and a £1000 fine in court costs. The £40 million worth of tax-dodging by Fortnum’s owners Whittington Investments never came up.

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