Fortnum & Mason protest: CPS drops charges against 109 UK Uncut activists

• Charges no longer in public interest, says CPS
• Police admit deceiving protesters into mass arrest
• Lawyer says it makes no sense to proceed with 30 cases

UK Uncut protest at Fortnum & Mason
There has been criticism of the policing of the UK Uncut protest at Fortnum & Mason. Photograph: Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images

The Crown Prosecution Service has dropped charges of aggravated trespass against 109 UK Uncut activists who occupied Fortnum & Mason in March, saying they are no longer in the public interest.

The Guardian can also reveal that the senior officer at the heart of policing the demonstration deceived protesters into a mass arrest.

More than 150 activists were arrested on the evening of 26 March despite holding what chief inspector Claire Clark described at the time as a non-violent and "sensible" demonstration.

As they left the store, the activists were handcuffed and transported to police stations across London, where they were held in cells for up to 24 hours.

Some protesters had their clothes and personal items taken from them for evidence purposes. One UK Uncut activist described it as "one of the worst nights in my life".

Five minors, the youngest aged 15, were among those held overnight in police cells. Their cases were dropped by the CPS almost three weeks ago. The cases of 30 activists are still continuing through the courts and will be heard from November.

Lawyers acting for the remaining defendants said the CPS decision to continue with the prosecutions "makes no sense". In court a fortnight ago the 30 were described as organisers of the protest. Thirteen have already denied the charges against them, and the other 17 are expected to do likewise during a hearing on 25 July.

Following the mass arrest, activists claimed they had been "tricked", as they said Clark had assured them that after leaving the store they would be directed to the nearest tube stations and free to go home. Their claims were backed by video footage obtained by the Guardian, which shows Clark denying that anyone would be kettled or detained after leaving the store. It was not known at the time whether Clark was aware that the activists would in fact be arrested.

The Guardian can now reveal that the police admit deception in the lead-up to the mass arrest. Clark has confirmed she was told by her fellow commanding officers that everyone inside the building would be arrested. However, 10 minutes later at 5.50pm, Clark has admitted, she gave assurances to demonstrators that they would be allowed to leave unhindered.

On the video, which timestamps confirm was shot after 5.50pm, Clark can be heard telling a member of the crowd that the police were "getting ready to let you go". In response to a question about whether there was a "kettle" outside, she replies: "No, we are getting ready to let you go."

A letter to the CPS from the defence solicitors Bindmans on 17 June criticised Clark's promises to the crowd. "It clearly brings the administration of justice into disrepute if an individual is not able to rely on the clear assurances of the police – and in this case a very high ranking officer – engaged in the policing of a peaceful protest," it read. "A decision by the CPS to continue the prosecution in these cases is an abuse of the process of the court."

Clark has defended her actions, saying she feared a breach of the peace if she told the otherwise peaceful activists inside the store that they would all be arrested.

Also that evening, so-called "black bloc" protesters broke into banks and damaged the front of the Ritz hotel. Fortnum's suffered some damage to the front of its store from those gathered outside.

The Metropolitan police said it was unable to comment on questions from the Guardian about Clark's actions. "As there are a number of outstanding trials, it would be inappropriate to comment at this time," a spokesperson said.

The CPS had signalled a fortnight ago that it would drop "a significant" number of charges. In a statement on Monday Alison Saunders, chief crown prosecutor of CPS London, said: "I have decided that the cases against 109 individuals who were charged after protesting in Fortnum & Mason on 26 March should be discontinued. However, we will continue to pursue the other 30 cases through the judicial process.

"After careful and necessary investigative work by the police to provide the fullest evidential picture, we have reviewed the evidence now available and considered representations made by the defence teams.

"I have concluded that there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction for the offence of aggravated trespass against all the defendants. However, in discontinuing these cases I have considered whether a prosecution is necessary in the public interest. I have decided that it is not, taking into account the following factors from the code for crown prosecutors: that this was a single incident; that they have not been involved in similar offences previously and that they played only a minor role in the offending behaviour; that if these defendants had been convicted the court would be likely to impose only a nominal penalty.

"The police investigation was able to identify whether these factors were present for each defendant. It was only after such an investigation that these factors could be applied," she added.

Mike Schwarz, of Bindmans, said: "It makes no sense to continue the prosecution of some of them while they are discounting so many of the other cases. The nature of civil disobedience doesn't accommodate that discrimination."


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  • Ceap

    18 July 2011 6:14PM

    Good day to bury bad news?

    Does anyone at the Met have any form of reputation left, or are we to conclude that they're all lying scumbags?

  • jameseubell

    18 July 2011 6:16PM

    Also: I am 100% convinced that in the dark future that awaits us, the police will become increasingly more corrupt, brutal, dishonest and draconian against the vulnerable, whilst the rich hand out their orders. Total scum

  • daveheasman

    18 July 2011 6:18PM

    Thanks to one officer's foolishness, the only sane response to anything a policeperson now says to one is "I don't believe you. You have a public record of lying". Particularly appropriate if they purport to be gathering evidence.

  • Discostug

    18 July 2011 6:18PM

    The police deceived people? Are those responsible going to resign then? It Would be interesting to know how much money they've fucking wasted in taking things this far! At a time of austerity n all. For shame.

  • Posodas

    18 July 2011 6:23PM

    What a total farce. I was at Fortnum's the day of the march and these kids did not deserve to be arrested. It was a clear attempt at police intimidation. The police completely ignored the people smashing up the banks and decided to arrest a load of peaceful and articulate 6th formers instead, it was outrageous.

    The Met never changes, the personal private army of the home secretary.

  • Tarantella

    18 July 2011 6:23PM

    Can't trust politicians, some journalists, the police...what a pretty pass. UK is an utter mess, and one that Cameron et al. are amplifying day by day and hour by hour.

  • nicholasbannister

    18 July 2011 6:23PM

    Also that evening, so-called "black bloc" protesters broke into banks and damaged the front of the Ritz hotel. Fortnum's suffered some damage to the front of its store from those gathered outside.

    Why is this passage in the piece? The two protests were unrelated, and the arrests only relate to UKUncut. Politicians and police tried to link them in the minds of the public, no need for the Guardian to help them in their deception.

  • hargiesa

    18 July 2011 6:25PM

    the po-po's are in a real mess innit? two of their most senior boys are gone today and the olympics is due, come on lads fix up!!

  • snix

    18 July 2011 6:26PM

    If anyone ever needed an excuse to disobey a police order this court case would have enshrined that right in Law.Future protests will no doubt highlight more crimes from the Met and their private controllers at ACPO.Thats only if their corruption isn't further exposed in the collusion evidence in the cover up relating to Murdoch and Cameron et al.
    Conspiracy and corruption are rife amongst the ruling classes

  • FrankLittle

    18 July 2011 6:26PM

    'Fortnum & Mason protest: CPS drops charges against 109 UK Uncut activists'

    But the police/media tactic of smearing UK Uncut activists as a bunch of trouble makers will still effect their protests. Will the police apologise? Will the protesters receive compensation? Will the police have to review their tactics when it comes to harassing peaceful protests?

    It's beginning to feel like the 80's all over again. wish we had camera phones back then.

  • Nonkey1

    18 July 2011 6:34PM

    Unbelievable.

    And the message for shopkeepers:

    If any passing thugs or ranters feel like trashing your shop and bullying your staff, the law will not protect you at all.

    So do it yourself.

  • Acidfairyy

    18 July 2011 6:35PM

    @nicholasbannister

    I think they mentioned it because it's an important point: real damage was occurring in other places and yet very little attempt was made to control it and arrest the rioters. Instead, a group of peaceful protesters sitting down in a shop were arrested.

  • ranelagh75

    18 July 2011 6:41PM

    Charges dropped? Good. And damned well they should have been.

    I only wonder if the Met and the CPS would have been so contrite had their blatant lies not been video-recorded. Somehow I doubt it.

  • thea1mighty

    18 July 2011 6:46PM

    If any passing thugs or ranters feel like trashing your shop and bullying your staff, the law will not protect you at all.

    So how does the reality of sitting down on the floor, leaving clear access to other customers and gently chatting with the staff tie up in any way with your imagined crimes ?

    The worst 'damage' that was done to F&M were a few chalk drawings done on the outside of the building, which could have been easily removed with a brush within 15 minutes or so.

    Wassup bro, you got something against peaceful protest ?

  • maggieTee

    18 July 2011 6:47PM

    I'm only surprised that the CPS allowed this case to get so far... no jury would convict them anyway (as we'll see if they proceed with cases against the remaining "hardcore" of 30). The police have generally tolerated peaceful sit-ins since the 1960s.

    The actual purpose of the Fortnum and Mason arrests was fourfold:

    1) A Met fishing trip to gather intelligence (emails, phone numbers etc) on senior figures in UKuncut

    2) to dissuade casual supporters of Ukuncut from any further direct action (legal or otherwise)

    3) to provide the Government and the Met with tough looking headlines after the Black Bloc went on a spree on March 26th (virtually no Black Bloc people were arrested - maybe they were all coppers anyway)

    4) Applying strict bail conditions on all arrestees that would prevent them taking part in any future Ukuncut action until their cases were concluded

    In these respects, the Met's operation that day was entirely successful ... it was also entirely illegal. It is illegal to arrest someone when you have no intention of prosecuting them, or when you know they have committed no crime.

    If I were UKuncut (I'm not) I would be looking to bring charges against the Met for false arrest and/or false imprisonment.

    This was a blatant example of political policing - worthy of China or East Germany in the old days.

  • matthewpringle

    18 July 2011 6:48PM

    The MET have proved over and over again that they are corrupt and incompetent. At least twice this year it has come out they actively conspired to mislead parliament.

    The first being the climate camp from a few years ago where they said 70+ officers were hurt, to justify their use of force, when in fact no police were hurt.

    They need to be broken into many smaller independent forces. Counter terrorism, in fact anything with guns involved needs to be removed and handed to a more responsible authority.

    No police officer needs to be attending tea parties which the rich and famous. I expect them to do their job, keeping the peace, and then eff of home.

  • OldWinter

    18 July 2011 6:48PM

    So 109 people arrested by deception and freed by CCTV.

    Glad the surveillance state is at least protecting us from the police state.

    No wonder there are laws to cut down on the amount of imagery the public is allowed to take of the police.

  • CrackedButter

    18 July 2011 6:52PM

    "Clark has defended her actions, saying she feared a breach of the peace if she told the otherwise peaceful activists inside the store that they would all be arrested". - Then why lie in the first place? The long term damage is going to be bigger idiots.

  • DavidoM

    18 July 2011 6:52PM

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn't abide by our community standards. Replies may also be deleted. For more detail see our FAQs.

  • Pete97

    18 July 2011 6:59PM

    Nonkey1
    18 July 2011 6:34PM
    Unbelievable.

    And the message for shopkeepers:

    If any passing thugs or ranters feel like trashing your shop and bullying your staff, the law will not protect you at all.

    So do it yourself.

    So what part of peaceful protest are you having trouble with? Unbelievable indeed

  • whythisishappening

    18 July 2011 7:00PM

    They might not be going to be charged but the Police will still keep their DNA ad infinitum.

    All their details and photographs will also be kept on a secret police protestor database. The police may also ask MI5 to bug their phones to help prevent any future protests.

    Police State anyone ?

  • BobHughes

    18 July 2011 7:02PM

    Nonkey1

    18 July 2011 6:34PM

    Unbelievable.

    And the message for shopkeepers:

    If any passing thugs or ranters feel like trashing your shop and bullying your staff, the law will not protect you at all.

    So do it yourself.

    Surely, the whole point was that they weren't thugs, they didn't trash the shop and they didn't bully the staff, which is why they have not been charged.

    Also, I suspect, for those same reasons, various actions will be taken against the Police

  • Policeless

    18 July 2011 7:08PM

    given the recent performance of the police, would it not be right that their pay is distributed amoungst the public and the Guardian newspapers

  • MikeBarnes

    18 July 2011 7:38PM

    FrankLittle

    It's beginning to feel like the 80's all over again. wish we had camera phones back then.

    Great point about camera phones, they'd have go away with this and Ian Tomlinson and god knows what else without them.

    No wonder the last government used the threat of terrorism to make it illegal to film the police.

  • tomguard

    18 July 2011 7:57PM

    You can't trust the Met. Look at the way they behaved during the miners' strike during the 80's and over the Stephen Lawrence case - brutal, racist and corrupt then, brutal, racist and corrupt now. Time it was broken up and thoroughly reformed from top to bottom.

  • Hemulen

    18 July 2011 8:07PM

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