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High Court Victory For “Coach-Napped” Protestors

Anti-war protestors are today celebrating a judgment which ruled that the police acted unlawfully in detaining them for 2 hours without arrests.

The High Court ruled today that Police violated the Human Rights Act when they illegally detained 120 protestors en route to a demonstration at RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire. This ruling will impact significantly on policing of future demonstrations and will have implications for the May Day 2001/Oxford Circus cases against the Metropolitan Police later this year.

The ruling was welcomed as a clarification of a draconian power which Parliament has never debated or sanctioned. However the protestors feel that the judgment should have gone further and ruled that the police also denied them two other human rights: freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. The protestors have permission to take their case to the Court of Appeal.

Last March, the protestors and their coaches were searched for nearly two hours and forced back to London under a heavy police escort “to prevent a breach of the peace.” The police argued that this was justified because the protestors were, in their view, “well-armed”.

However, giving judgment, 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.”

John Halford, the solicitor at Bindman and Partners representing the group, said today that, “no crime had been committed. What the Police did was arbitrarily detain on the flimsiest of pretexts. The Court has laid down a firm marker that this must not happen in future.”

Jane Laporte, the named claimant, said: “attending a demonstration is a basic freedom which everyone should enjoy if a society is to function as a democracy. We hoped that the Court would uphold this freedom, particularly in respect of a war so widely regarded as being waged on unjust grounds. Not only is this an attack on our freedom but the operation and the police’s decision to contest the action is a waste of public money.’

Katherine Gun

In the run-up to the Iraq war, Katharine Gun, a GCHQ translator, leaked documents to the Observer showing that US intelligence were asking their British counterparts to help spy on diplomats on the United Nations Security Council. This involved bugging phones and intercepting e mails from friendly countries such as Chile and Mexico who had the power to decide if the UN would back the war against Iraq.

Now, Katharine has been charged under the draconian Official Secrets Act. She faces the possibility of two years in prison. Her trial is held on 25th of February, so verdict will possibly have been delivered by the time you read this!

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