Following the lengthy testimony of almost twenty police officers, one of the defendants was acquitted after it was found there was, in fact, no case to answer. A shockingly truthful testimony from his arresting officer had made it clear that the charges against him were completely unfounded, and that he had, in effect, been arrested by mistake.
Subsequently two other defendants had the charges against them dropped down from Affray to Section 4 (Fear or Provocation of Violence) of the Public Order Act (nb Section 4 allows a maximum prison sentence of six months, while Affray has a maximum of three years).
After a marathon three week trial, the jury yesterday returned not guilty verdicts on the four remaining defendants.
The trial saw some extraordinary admissions from police witnesses, such as one officer who freely admitted writing things about the incident, which he hadn’t even seen, in his police notebook. He said that other officers had told him what had happened later in the police canteen.
Another officer made a chilling admission, which drew gasps from the jury, when he said if he had to push people into the path of oncoming traffic, then so be it. He also said he didn't care whether people ran, walked or crawled away from the scene.
Numerous significant inconsistencies were revealed throughout the testimony of the 19 police officers, and several photographs taken by one of the defendants were used to contradict the police officers’ version of events. At one point it seemed that officers closed ranks, with some refusing to answer simple questions like "did you see any police officers push anyone?"
The crown prosecution opened their case against the defendants with the testimony of the manager of the Coronet pub. However his evidence did little more than confirm that there had been a small disturbance in the pub, when a small group of people had set up their own mini sound system. The staff had called the police, but he stressed the people responsible for the disturbance had left the pub with their equipment before the police arrived on the scene, and that everything else in the pub was orderly, and really no different from a normal weekend, apart from more people being present. He also said it was the police who advised the closing of the pub, and that people left in an orderly fashion without causing any trouble inside the pub.
It also emerged that after the first officers arrived on the scene and advised the closure of the pub (which the manager said could hold 6-700 people), TSG riot police and dog units were requested to attend, well before any trouble occurred. In other words, the officers knew that clearing the pub of hundreds of people drinking on a Saturday night was a risky move. Indeed the manager of the pub said the police wanted to wait for backup to arrive before proceeding. Unsurprisingly during the trial, the sense of this decision to close the pub was called into question, as too were the circumstances of the first arrest, which it appeared was in fact illegal.
But perhaps one of the most striking errors was the calling of the only non-police prosecution witness who saw the events outside the Coronet pub. It seems the officer in charge of the case had mistakenly assumed this witness to be a PCSO (police community support officer), and thus allowed him to write his own statement. The statement was written around ten days after the incident outside the pub, but falsely dated as being written the day after the events. In court it became clear that the witness was not in fact a PCSO, and despite saying he had extensive experience with the security services, military and police, he turned out to be simply an unemployed ex-security guard who had set up his own 'community support' group with a few of his friends! His somewhat confusing testimony however proved useful to the defence when he said the only reason for his being there was to assist officers, and that despite this, he himself was assaulted and pushed back by police.
A longer report on the trial will be produced soon, which includes much more detail. But for now it suffices to say a serious miscarriage of justice has been avoided. The defendants’ experiences together show how easy it can be for police officers to arbitrarily arrest innocent people and subject them to a stressful ordeal lasting a full year. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time is what one of the defendants said during the trial, another was guilty of nothing more than making a monkey pose at one particularly large officer, others gave evidence saying that they were jumped on and arrested as they respectively took photographs of the scene, told officers to calm down, and went to the aid of a woman who had been pushed to the ground; one even testified how he was punched repeatedly while handcuffed in the back of a police van and another recounted how he was hooded whilst lying handcuffed in the street.
Related to the arrests are two revealing insights into the minds of some officers that emerged during the trial. One officer categorically stated that there were no innocent bystanders present outside the Coronet pub that night, while another stated he fully believed the people outside the pub were prepared for the incident (i.e. had planned it) simply because he saw a couple of people with camcorders and some with cameras that had "big lenses"...
Similar inaccurate prejudices and crazy conclusion jumping was displayed by the media, perhaps fed by the court reporter who was present on the first day of the jury trial. An article, which appeared in a local Bristol daily, screamed ‘Anarchists join forces with football hooligans to fight police'!
For note, there were in fact seven arrests that night just over a year ago. One person had their charges dropped after it became clear they had been assaulted by one of the officers, and another accepted a caution for swearing. Two other points worthy of mention is that throughout the trial, the five defendants were allowed by the judge to sit within the court room behind their defence barristers, instead of being shut off behind glass security screens and forced to wear headphones in the dock (much to the initial annoyance of the prosecution). Also, the day before this year’s anarchist bookfair, the prosecution tried to re-impose bail conditions to prevent the defendants entering the Holloway road area - a request the judge immediately denied.
Well, the three-week trial has now finished and the five are free, but the truth is that that the trial should never have happened.
Before their arrests none of the defendants knew each other. Different ages, different backgrounds, different interests. But now after a year of facing a possible three-year prison sentence they've learnt a lot about each other, about solidarity, and have become friends. It's interesting to note that while one person was pronounced not guilty last week, and three more yesterday lunchtime, it was only at the end of the day, when the fifth and final not guilty verdict was returned, that the celebrations truly began.
Finally all five have expressed their gratitude to everyone who has provided support over the last year, and in particular over the last few weeks.
Coronet Court Report