Members of the Whose Streets? Campaign protest outside the council meeting 05.08
‘Liberal Democrats: Taking Liberties’
Campaigners claim that documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that police had initiated a controversial prosecution of four political campaigners by Newcastle City Council. The campaign group "Whose Streets" (a broad campaign of different groups and activists) is claiming that the prosecution has been part of a national police and government crackdown on political campaigning in the streets.
The prosecution in Newcastle is attempting to prohibit collections and donations at street meetings, such as the stalls at Newcastle's Monument. Currently, only one prosecution is going forward at Newcastle magistrates (on 11 March), but is seen by other campaigners as a test for how the law will be applied in future. This will seriously affect the large number of relatively small groups opposing government policy, which, unlike the major political parties, rely upon donations from the public instead of large corporate sponsors.
(See previous press release, 3 March. If you do not have this, please email or telephone 0191-251 3278 and this will be sent by return).
Tom Vickers, spokesman for the four activists being prosecuted, said, "We know what we were doing was legal because it is specifically mentioned and allowed in the law. There is only one precedent for this - the attempted prosecution of miners collecting at the Monument in 1985 during the Miners' Strike. That prosecution was thrown out because they could show what they were doing was allowed by law. That prosecution was political and so is this one."
Tom Vickers, spokesman for the four activists being prosecuted, said, "The documents show that police took the initiative - they approached the council first. The council officers went into discussion with the police. The unelected council officers then decided to initiate a prosecution, which represented a change in policy. They did so without consulting the elected councillors or putting this to a vote in the Council, as they were required to do. The surprise expressed by councilors we have spoken to that the case is taking place shows a serious lack of consultation with elected representatives."
He continued, "This is part of a national crackdown on lawful political activity in the streets. Unelected officers should not have made a decision to participate in this. The elected councillors should not have allowed them to."
Four documents were obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request to the Council, dated 3 May 2007, 19 June, 3 Sep and a fourth undated. Large sections of the documents have been blacked out, and the fourth document withheld entirely, on the grounds that it may prejudice the prosecution of the case. The defendants will be seeking the release of the full text of this correspondence to the court. Copies can be provided on request.
Around 15 members of the Whose Streets? Campaign participated in a noisy demonstration outside the full meeting of the council on the evening of Wednesday 5th March. The defendants had applied to submit a petition signed by Newcastle residents to the meeting, but were refused on the grounds that it may prejudice the outcome of the case.
"Whose Streets" pointed to the controversial legal case last year, affecting campaigners trying to save the beauty spot and SSSI at Radley Lakes in Oxfordshire from dumping and filling with toxic power station fly-ash. After a peaceful, legal demonstration, an injunction was taken out against protestors including the local vicar and an elderly lady parish councillor. Those named were threatened with prison and huge damages, which would cause any one of them to lose their homes. The injunction also prohibited the press, naming a Guardian reporter.
Although the Radley Lakes injunction was taken out by power generator RWE-nPower, it later transpired that the police had been the prime movers behind the injunction. Because no crime had been committed, the police could not act - the police are only allowed to use criminal law. Instead, the police urged the power station owner, RWE-nPower, to take out a civil law injunction, which can be used even where no law has been broken, and can be used to criminalise otherwise legal, non-criminal behaviour. The police National Extremism Tactical Coordinating Unit (NETCU) had identified all the protestors, and journalists, and given their names and personal information to nPower. Although the injunction was taken out by nPower, the police suggested it, encouraged it, facilitated it and provided most of the confidential personal information used in court to obtain it. Documentation about this is available from the police NETCU website, which also lists numerous other cases where they played a similar role.
High Court injunctions
Orders under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997
(Radley Lakes) Case number
27/04/07 RWE Npower PLC HQ07X00505 (Download 3.76 Mb)
(30 other injunctions also listed)
The greatest concern is the widespread deployment of the police in this role - that Radley Lakes was not a one-off, but only part of an accelerating strategy.
Whose Streets argues that this use of state power, combined with corporate resources, directed against political opponents is fundamentally anti-democratic. It is using police resources to shut-down legal political activity.
Whose Streets argues that the correspondence between the police and Newcastle Council shows this prosecution is similar in nature. Although it is using slightly different laws, the aim is the same - prosecution of peaceful political opposition to government policy.
More information is available in the previous press release (3 March) or direct from the campaign. If you do not have the previous press release, please email or telephone 0191-251 3278 and this will be sent by return.
In a bizarre development, following the Council meeting on 5th March 2008 Liberal Democrat Councillor Chris Boyle emailed members of the Whose Streets? Campaign asking for evidence of collections taking place at No2ID street meetings which were participated in by Liberal Democrat councillors, and promising to write to the police and ask them to prosecute No2ID activists if evidence was found. A member of the Whose Streets? Campaign replied to Councillor Boyle explaining that the campaign supports the rights of all campaigns to collect donations at street meetings. Tom Vickers, one of the defendants, commented:
“Whilst some councillors from both parties have expressed surprise and alarm that the case is taking place, Councillor Boyle’s email demonstrates that the Liberal Democrats’ commitment to civil liberties is only skin deep. Whilst they criticise the national Labour government’s attacks on democratic rights, where they are in power in Newcastle they are no different.”
The activists are due to appear at Gosforth Magistrates Court at 10am on Tuesday 11th March.