Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/690/13003
Not guilty: Jury rejects the politically motivated charge of 'conspiracy'
A Socialist Party member
Courtesy of British Transport Police and the Crown Prosecution Service, nine people were recently given an unwanted insight into the British justice system and the frontline of political policing.
Along with 15 others, they were arrested for taking part in a protest against a neo-Nazi gig in South London in 2009. Kept on bail until they thought they'd been forgotten, they were charged with conspiracy to commit violent disorder.
So many were charged that they couldn't all fit into one court room and were split into two trials. The trial of the nine eventually started two and a half years after the first trial had begun.
Conspiracy is a very useful offence for prosecutors. A conspiracy is where two or more people agree to commit an offence. However, as the chief prosecutor in the trial explained, no actual evidence of an agreement has to be produced for a successful conviction. All they have to do is make inferences from behaviour that show the accused must have agreed to a plan and been part of a conspiracy.
During a gruelling three-week trial this is actually what they tried to do. No evidence was offered that any of them had taken part in any violence. Instead the jury were shown lengthy CCTV footage and asked to make guesses about what they were doing, thinking and saying at certain points.
This would have been laughable if it wasn't so serious. At one point the prosecutor seriously stated that because one of the accused was seen shrugging his shoulders on the CCTV, that must mean he was asking for orders!
The strangest part was how theatrical the court was. Not only do barristers continue to dress up in costumes complete with wigs but the cross-examinations of witnesses and defendants involved dramatic pauses, long soliloquies, barristers throwing their hands up in the air, gasping with pretend astonishment and fuming with pretend outrage.
There was absolutely no evidence of any plan so the prosecution relied on daft assertions, like anyone wearing a normal baseball cap is trying to hide their identity, and on outrageous political attacks. People who hold socialist views were called old-fashioned extremists who were responsible for the Great Famine in China!
At best, the prosecution had evidence that two people were involved in a fight with neo-Nazis on the day yet they attempted to prosecute 23 people and found the resources to do so. This was a clear cut case of a politically motivated prosecution attempting to criminalise political activism.
'Keep up the good work'
Thankfully, after a three-week trial at a cost running into the millions, a jury of 12 ordinary people unanimously acquitted the nine after deliberating for less than an hour. Incredibly, the jury even told them to keep up the good work!
However at a similar, earlier trial seven people were convicted of being part of a conspiracy so it may be deployed again in the future. It forms part of wider attempts by the government to criminalise political activity, erode hard-won democratic rights and activists and trade unionists should be aware of it.
As the cuts begin to bite, it is likely that the use of conspiracy charges to round up large groups of activists will be an important tool in the box of dirty tricks to undermine opposition to the government's plans.
In The Socialist 19 October 2011:
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