120 people prevented from attending demonstration against Iraq war at RAF Fairford will claim £3,000 each
Friday February 20, 2004
Anti-war protesters are to claim thousands of pounds in damages after a high court ruling yesterday that the Gloucestershire police unlawfully detained them on their way to a demonstration at RAF Fairford.
About 120 people will be able to seek awards after two senior judges ruled in a test case that police breached their human rights by detaining them and returning their coaches to London.
Three coaches on their way to the RAF station, which was being used by American B-52 bombers, were stopped and searched in a lay-by at Lechlade last March before being forced back on to the motorway under a police escort.
The ruling that they were unlawfully held on the two-and-a-half hour return journey, without a toilet break, was welcomed by the protesters and their lawyers as a “landmark victory” for liberty and human rights.
But there was disappointment that the judges also ruled that the police acted within their powers when they prevented the demonstrators reaching the airfield in Gloucestershire to protest against the war with Iraq.
Lord Justice May and Mr Justice Harrison agreed that, even though their subsequent detention was unlawful, the police had been entitled to stop them reaching Fairford, because of fears of a breach of the peace.
The case was brought in the name of one of the protesters, Jane Laporte, from Tottenham, north London.
Her solicitor, John Halford of Bindman and Partners, said: “The court ruling that there was unlawful and arbitrary detention is welcome and severely restricts the use of a draconian power which parliament has never debated or sanctioned.
“This was not a case of ’rounding up the usual suspects’. No crime had been committed. What the police did was to detain on the flimsiest of pretexts. The court has laid down a firm marker that this must not happen in future.”
Mr Halford added: “This case was brought to establish principles, not to win damages. But, as a result of today’s ruling, the 120 passengers will now be able to claim damages of approximately £3,000 per person.”
The police justified their decision on the grounds that the passengers were “well armed” with two pairs of scissors, “five home-made shields,” a cardboard tube and yacht distress flare.
Lord Justice May ruled that none of the articles seized was to be regarded as “offensive”.
Ms Laporte, a veteran of several peace demonstrations, said: “We will be celebrating the ruling that the police acted unlawfully in detaining us. But the judgment should have gone further. Attending a demonstration is a basic freedom which everyone should enjoy.”
A statement from Gloucestershire constabulary said the force was “naturally disappointed” that the high court found that the police, to a degree, had acted unlawfully.
Martin Baker, deputy chief constable, said: “In this judgment, the court recognises the very difficult situation faced by the police on the day. It also identifies that, even with benefit of hindsight, there is no easy solution to these complex issues, let alone in the heat of the moment when the operational commander was called upon to make decisions.”
The demonstrators and the police were given permission to appeal against those parts of the ruling which went against them.
The inquiry into how much damages the demonstrators should receive was adjourned to await the outcome of the appeals.
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Police wrong to detain activists, say judges :: The Times
by Michael Evans, Defence Editor
POLICE officers who detained coachloads of peace activists travelling to an American B52 bomber base to demonstrate against the war in Iraq, and then forced them to return to London under escort, acted illegally, the High Court ruled yesterday.
Lord Justice May and Mr Justice Harrison of the divisional court ruled that in the case of Jane Laporte, one of 120 protesters who were stopped, searched and asked to reboard three coaches heading for RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, the detention and enforced return to London could not be justified.
Under Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, ?deprivation of liberty? has to be justified in accordance with the law. The Gloucestershire police who intercepted the coaches at a lay-by had argued that the detention was justified because the protesters were ?well armed? with two pairs of scissors, five home-made shields, a cardboard tube and a yacht distress flare.
But Lord Justice May said: ?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 airbase.? The police had told the protesters they believed that a breach of the peace would occur at Fairford, from where long-range B52 bombers were taking off for Iraq. The coach doors were then forcibly held shut and the protesters were taken back to London.
Ms Laporte said yesterday: ?Attending a demonstration is a basic freedom which everyone should enjoy if a society is to function as a democracy.? The protesters now plan to seek thousands of pounds in compensation from the police.
However, the judges also ruled that the police were within their rights to turn the protesters away from the demonstration. They could take preventive measures to avoid breaches of the peace. The detention of the passengers as they were escorted to London was a breach of their liberty.