May Day detainees fight for justice

REPRESENTATIVES OF the ‘May Day detainees’ aim to get a judgement overturned in the House of Lords in November. This judgement said it was lawful to detain them at Oxford Circus on May Day 2001. They have been granted leave to appeal and will use this legal action to expose the increasingly authoritarian methods the police use to undermine the right to protest.

Up to 3,000 people were held at Oxford Circus during May Day protests with no toilet facilities or access to food or water. Lois Austin, Socialist Party member, organiser of the May Day detainees and the appellant bringing the case against the Metropolitan Police, was not allowed to leave the demonstration despite having to collect her one year old daughter from nursery.

What is most worrying about this case is the right wing press’ criminalisation of protesters. An article in the Evening Standard (2 September 2008) claims the “police tactic of containment stopped millions of pounds worth of damage in the capital”. Joshua Rozenberg, the Standard’s legal analyst, even quotes Ken Livingstone as having warned people to stay away from a “deliberate attempt to create destruction in the capital”.

Unfortunately for Ken, his attack on anti-capitalist protesters, much publicised by the Standard, didn’t save him from that paper’s wrath and support for his replacement as Mayor by the Tory Boris Johnson!

Rozenberg even stoops so low as to say, as did the original trial judge, that protesters may have terrorists among their number like those who attacked the twin towers on 9/11. Equating protesters with terrorists was a common theme throughout this trial and others where heavy-handed police tactics have been used.

If this judgement becomes embedded into public order law it gives the green light to the police to use the behaviour of one person or even the suspected behaviour of one person to ban a whole demonstration. The original trial judgement that justified the detainment adds to the plethora of reactionary laws and verdicts attacking free speech, the right to strike and the right to protest.

We can’t hold out much hope that the Lords will act in favour of the detainees, but whatever the outcome, the struggle to defend democratic rights must continue.