Police 'abused power' during demo
Protesters have won their High Court battle over a police decision to detain them on their way to RAF Fairford for an anti-war demonstration.
Lawyers for half the 120 passengers, stopped from protesting last March, accused Gloucestershire Police of acting unlawfully.
Three coaches were stopped, searched and escorted back to London.
The court ruled that police abused common law when they detained the demonstrators for more than two hours.
Lord Justice May and Mr Justice Harrison, sitting in London, ruled that the protesters' detention and forced return could also not be justified under the European Convention on Human Rights.
But the court did back the police's contention that they were entitled - and obliged - to take preventative action as they "reasonably and honestly" believed that breaches of the peace would have occurred if the coaches reached Fairford.
In its judgement, the court also said there "...may be circumstances in which individual discrimination amongst a large numbers of uncooperative people may be impractical" and that this was such a case.
John Halford, solicitor for the protesters, told BBC News 24: "The court made it clear that we won on the main issues and awarded all of our costs against the police.
"The main issue was unlawful detention and whether it was right to escort 120 protesters back to London and forcibly keeping them on the coach while they did so.
"We think what the police are required to do in a situation like this is assess every individual separately."
There is no word of criticism whatsoever in the judgement
Items removed by police from the coaches included masks, white overalls, scissors, five shields and body armour.
The protesters were on their way to join a demonstration against the war in Iraq when they were detained for more than two hours.
They were then escorted back to London without stopping in a two and a half hour journey with no toilet facilities on the buses.
The circumstance and length of this detention were ruled by the court to be "wholly disproportionate".
'No one hurt'
A statement by Gloucestershire Police read: "The court has made it clear that the operational commander on the ground was lawfully entitled to turn those coaches away. In fact, it was his duty to do so.
"While the court has decided that it was wrong for the police to escort those coaches back, they made it clear that there was no basis whatsoever for doubting the Operational Commander's intentions or motives in doing so. He was acting in entirely good faith.
"In fact, there is no word of criticism whatsoever in the judgement.
"The fact that no one was hurt that day and that a lawful protest was able to take place with the cooperation of the local community and without disruption to military operations demonstrates that this operation was entirely successful."
Both the police and protesters have been given leave to appeal.
Mr Halford said protesters planned to appeal against the court's ruling that two articles of human rights law had not been breached.
Peace activists detention was unlawful
19 February 2004
Protesters today won their High Court battle over a police decision to detain three coachloads of peace activists on their way to a demonstration against the war on Iraq.
The ruling was a victory for about 60 of the 120 passengers. They took legal action after being prevented from attending the vigil at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire in March last year.
They accused Gloucestershire Police of acting unlawfully.
Their lawyers had argued the "unjustified" police action amounted to an abuse of power.
Today Lord Justice May and Mr Justice Harrison, sitting in London, ruled that their detention and forced return to London could not be justified under both common law and the European Convention on Human Rights.
But the protesters failed to gain a ruling that they should have been allowed to attend the demonstration.
Both judges agreed that, even though their subsequent detention was unlawful, the police had been entitled to stop them reaching Fairford because of fears of a breach of the peace.
Three coaches from London were intercepted in a lay-by in Lechlade at 12.50pm, searched and items were seized.
At 2.15pm, the decision was taken to return the coaches to London non-stop under police escort, because of the view taken about preventing violence by hard-core demonstrators.
Michael Fordham, appearing for demonstrator Jane Laporte, from Woodlands Park Road, Tottenham, London N15, contended that both the action of turning away and of forcible return were unlawful.
Lord Justice May said the police were entitled to take preventive measures to avoid breaches of the peace.
It had been impractical for officers to deal with a large number of "unco-operative" people on an individual basis in the lay-by.
The judge said: "I do not consider that the police action in preventing the coaches from proceeding to Fairford was unlawful."
But the detention of the passengers while they were escorted back to London was a breach of their right to liberty under Article 5 of the human rights convention.
Persons detained to prevent a breach of the peace should be released unconditionally "as soon as the immediate apprehension of breach of the peace is past."
Detention beyond that point "will not be justified unless there is an arrest followed by bringing the person arrested before a magistrate".
How long transitory detention without arrest could lawfully last depended on the facts of the individual case - "but it cannot be for long", ruled the judge.
Ms Laporte's enforced return to London on the coach was not lawful because "there was no immediately apprehended breach of the peace by her sufficient to justify even transitory detention".
The judge added: "Detention on the coach for two and a half hours went far beyond anything which could conceivably constitute transitory detention such as I have described."
The "circumstances and length of detention on the coach were wholly disproportionate to the apprehended breach of the peace."
The judge said he appreciated the court's ruling "may cause difficulties for the police in circumstances such as those at Fairford on March 22 20003".
Declaring that the detention on the coaches was not lawful, he ruled that Ms Laporte was entitled to claim damages. Mr Justice Harrison agreed.
Because of the importance of the issues raised, both the demonstrators and the police were given permission to appeal against those parts of today's ruling which went against them.
The inquiry as to how much damages the demonstrators should receive was adjourned pending the outcome of the appeal.
During the recent High Court hearing, Michael Fordham said that the operation at Fairford, which was used by American B-52 bombers, was the largest and most complex police operation ever undertaken by Gloucestershire Police.
The protesters were utterly opposed to the US-led military assault on Iraq and wished to exercise their deeply-held beliefs through peaceful protest.
Mr Fordham said that the police regarded their operation as a great success in achieving their strategic objectives of preventing violence and facilitating peaceful protest.
Lawyers for Gloucestershire Police argued that their officers were not only entitled to take the action they did - they were obliged to.