The High Court has today published its judgement in relation to a claim by Ms Jane Laporte that on the 22 March 2003 Gloucestershire Constabulary acted unlawfully in preventing her from travelling to a demonstration outside RAF Fairford and in escorting the coach on which she was a passenger back to its starting point in London.
In its judgement the court has made it clear that the operational commander on the ground was lawfully entitled to turn those coaches away. In fact, it was his duty to do so.
While the court has decided that it was wrong for the police to escort those coaches back to London, they made it clear that there was no basis whatsoever for doubting the operational commander’s intentions or motives in doing so. He was acting entirely in good faith.
In fact, there is no word of criticism whatsoever in the judgement.
In interpreting this judgement it is vital for it to be put into context. On 22 March last year the Gloucestershire Constabulary was striving to achieve a number of complex and sometimes competing objectives. Our aims that day were to:
· Protect life and property – that meant planning for every possible eventuality from public disorder through to acts of terrorism.
· Minimise disruption to the lives of the local community
· Facilitate lawful protest
· Minimise the risk of disruption to military operations.
The fact that no one was hurt that day and that a lawful protest was able to take place with the cooperation of the local community and without disruption to military operations demonstrates that this operation was entirely successful.
One of our duties on that day was to uphold the rights of individuals to engage in lawful and peaceful protest. The High Court found that in directing the coaches away from the site, because of a belief that a breach of the peace would occur if it were allowed to continue, we did not infringe the rights of individuals to protest.
We are naturally disappointed that part of the Judicial Review did not concur with our belief that we were entitled to escort the coaches back to London to prevent them from returning to RAF Fairford, from where we had lawfully turned them away. However, the Court did recognise that this decision was based on an honestly and reasonably held belief that a breach of the peace could have occurred if the coaches had been allowed to proceed.
We are looking at this element of the judgement very carefully and may consider an appeal in due course
If it is decided that damages are payable, there will be a separate hearing for damages. The Constabulary is insured for such eventualities.
At no stage was our right to stop and search the coaches challenged by the claimant. This case was about our right to turn them back, which the court has fully supported. A very significant part of the judgement is the support of the court for the principle of ‘collective intent’ – in other words the court recognised that it was almost impossible for the police to differentiate between activists and genuine protestors on the coaches and in order to prevent a breach of the peace it was wholly appropriate for all of the coach passengers to be turned away.
We have always considered that we were entitled and indeed obliged to take the actions that we did on 22 March 2003. We acted in good faith, and believed that we were acting within the law. We have always considered that our responses were proportionate and all our decisions on the day were based on intelligence.
Deputy Chief Constable Martin Baker, who was in overall command of the operation at Fairford, said, “It must be remembered that we were protecting a military airfield with a perimeter of over 13 miles in a time of war. The fact is that a relatively small number of people were inconvenienced, a very large number of people were able to protest lawfully and safely, and a group of hard-core activists were prevented from attacking an operational military air base. The fact that these activists were intent on doing so is unquestionable – on their website they were calling this “The Judgement Day” and were encouraging other activists to come to Fairford on 22 March to stop military operations by any means possible. We had seen only four weeks earlier the lengths that they were willing to go to when they tore open the gates to the base and swarmed on to the airfield, assaulting police officers in the process”.
In the course of the war the perimeter fence was cut on no less than 70 occasions and over 80 arrests were made.
Mr Baker added, “In this judgement the court recognises the very difficult situation faced by the police on the day. It also identifies that, even with the benefit of hindsight, there is no easy solution to these complex legal issues, let alone in the heat of the moment when the operational commander was called upon to make instant decisions. The High Court has recognised that Chief Superintendent Kevin Lambert acted with the utmost honesty and integrity. His professionalism and decisiveness on that day reflected the very careful planning prior to the event and led to him achieving all of our operational objectives. By any measure, that is a definition of success”. Thursday 19 February 2004