(For fun, also see - http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2004/10/298742.html)
FAIRFORD COACH ACTION
Phone Jane Laporte on 07817 483 167, Jesse Schust on 07814 587 361 or Zoe Young on 07931 316 970 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 06/10/04
'COACH-NAPPED' PROTESTORS TO APPEAL "CHILLING" HIGH COURT JUDGEMENT
Anti-war protestors will be in the Court of Appeal next week (14-15 October) to argue that the police acted unlawfully in turning them away from a demonstration at RAF Fairford.
On 22 March 2003, three days after the invasion of Iraq commenced, 120 people travelled by coach from London to RAF Fairford – a Gloucestershire airbase where US bombing missions were operating day and night. The passengers and their coaches were stopped and searched for nearly two hours, before being forced back to London under a heavy police escort "to prevent a breach of the peace.” No offensive items were found.
The coach passengers won a landmark victory in February at the High Court, which ruled that the police had acted unlawfully and breached their human rights by detaining them. The police had argued that the protestors were "well-armed". However, giving judgement, Lord Justice May commented that, "for practical purposes none of the articles seized were to be regarded as offensive. Two pairs of scissors would not make much impression on the perimeter fencing of the air base."
Although the judges ruled that the detention was unlawful, they also ruled that it was not unlawful for the police to turn the passengers away from the demonstration. This means that any group of people could be turned away from a demonstration without evidence and based solely on the opinion of a senior police officer. Helen Wickham, one of the passengers, said, "To be sure of reaching a demonstration, I would have to be psychic and know what's going on in the mind of a senior police officer." Amnesty International has described the ruling as having a "chilling effect on the rights to freedom of assembly, peaceful protest and expression." The case is also supported by Liberty.
The coach passengers’ case hinges on the application of European Human Rights legislation, which is now law in the UK following the adoption of the Human Rights Act in October 2000. A ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (Ezelin para 53) states: "the freedom to take part in a peaceful assembly – in this instance a demonstration that had not been prohibited – is of such importance that it cannot be restricted in any way…so long as the person concerned does not himself commit any reprehensible act on such an occasion."
In a further twist, the UN Secretary-General has recently confirmed that the attack on Iraq was illegal. Jesse Schust, a legal observer who was travelling on the coaches, commented: "It is particularly ironic that the police overstepped their powers in order to prevent us going to a lawful demonstration against an illegal war."
A short film of the searches and detention, "On the Buses" by Zoe Young and Indymedia, has taken the passengers' story to the World Social Forum in Mumbai, the Portobello Film Festival and events in the USA. (Clips are available for broadcast on request.)
A ruling is expected within the next three months. The detained coach passengers are prepared to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights if UK courts fail to uphold their human rights.
Demonstration outside the Royal Courts of Justice,
Thursday 14th & Friday 15th October, 9-10am .
For more information on Fairford Coach Action, phone Jane Laporte on 07817 483 167 or Jesse Schust on 07814 587 361 or e-mail email@example.com
Notes for Journalists
1. Fairford Coach Action is the name of the group of more than 80 passengers who have collectively decided to pursue a Judicial Review case against the police's actions on 22nd March 2003. Full background information is available on the website. Visit the site for links to the full judgement, related web articles, statements of support, and testimonial statements from coach passengers. http://www.fairfordcoachaction.org.uk/
2. Interviews with passengers from the coaches can be arranged (please enquire - see contact details above). Dramatic, high-quality, digital video footage and photographs are also available. Permission to use them will be granted on a case-by-case basis (rates vary). Contact Zoe Young on 07931 316 970.
3. The solicitor representing the case, John Halford, can be contacted at Bindman & Partners on 020 7833 4433.
4. The Fairford coach case is listed in Amnesty International's report: Europe and Central Asia: Summary of Amnesty International's Concerns in the Region, January – June 2004, and was mentioned in Liberty's dossier on the policing at RAF Fairford. Liberty has made a submission to the Court of Appeal supporting the passengers' appeal. Other supporters include David Drew, MP, Lynne Jones, MP, Caroline Lucas, MEP and Jean Lambert, MEP (see website for quotes) and an article by Mark Thomas, supporting the case, has appeared in the New Statesman (1 March 2004).
5. On 22nd March 2003, three days after the start of the US/UK war on Iraq, a demonstration organised by the Gloucestershire Weapons Inspectors (GWI), attracted over 3,000 protestors to the airbase. Groups travelled to Fairford from 37 locations across the UK. American B-52 planes flew from RAF Fairford airbase to bomb Baghdad (see http://www.fairfordpeacewatch.com/ ) and Fairford was the site of excessive policing during the war on Iraq. (Within 52 days (from 6 March 2003), police conducted over 2000 anti-terror searches in the vicinity.) GWI, Berkshire CIA and Liberty have issued a dossier showing how stop and search powers of the Terrorism Act 2000 were misused by police. For the report "Casualty of War - 8 weeks of counter-terrorism in rural England" see http://www.gwi.org.uk/ and http://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/ The Government estimated the added cost of policing RAF Fairford was £6.9 million. The airbase continues to be upgraded for use by US Stealth (B2) Bombers, greatly expanding the US capacity to "invisibly" deploy tactical nuclear weapons anywhere in the world within hours. Further info at http://www.gwi.org.uk/ and http://www.atkinsglobal.com/wsainternet/skills/design/sectors/aviationdefence/jfsiraffairford/
6. The main defendant in the case is The Chief Constable of Gloucestershire Constabulary; the two interested parties are the Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police and the Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police.
7. The Human Rights Act 1998 came into force in October 2000. It requires the police and other public authorities to avoid breaching key European Convention Human Rights Articles save where legislation makes this impossible. Amongst the key rights are Article 5 (deprivation of liberty must be justified in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law and on one of the five grounds listed in paragraph (1) of the Article), Article 10 (freedom of speech and expression) and Article 11 (freedom of assembly).
8. At common law a constable may arrest a person without warrant whom he or she reasonably believes will commit a breach of the peace in the immediate future, even though at the time of the arrest such person has not committed any breach. This power is subject to a number of strict restrictions, however: the belief must relate to an act or threatened act harming any person or, in his presence, his property, or which puts a person in fear of such harm; the belief must relate to the likely actions of the particular individual or individuals against whom the power is used; and when the particular individual is acting lawfully at the time the power is used, the threat of his committing a breach of the peace must be sufficiently real and imminent to justify the use of such a draconian power.
Note - this press release appears as RTF at-