The Criminal Justice Act in Action (a first-hand account)
On Monday 12 December, 1994 I became the second person in West Yorkshire to be arrested and later charged under the new Criminal Justice Act. If found guilty I will be a criminal. I have been campaigning against this Act because I am worried that it will criminalise many legitimate activities. This worry has been brought home to me first hand. I believe I have done nothing wrong yet I stand accused, facing up to three months in prison and a fine of up to œ2500. Before you form a stereotyped image of a typical 'protester' as some sort of 'unemployed, ignorant trouble-maker' I would like to introduce myself; I am 28, the father of a five month old son, self-employed computer programmer, struggling but managing to earn a living, pay the mortgage etc. I care about the planet, animals and people (including police and tree-fellers). I want peace for all and am against force and violence. In late November I became aware that about twenty mature, magnificent and beautiful trees in Waterloo, Huddersfield were to be destroyed. Not because we needed their wood for fuel to keep warm, or to build homes or furniture, but because they stood in the way of profit and greed. Huddersfield is to get yet another supermarket, as more local shops are killed off and the food retail industry falls into the control of huge corporations. Several 'Waterloo campaigners' have spent considerable time being passed from pillar to post whilst trying to find out whether Kirklees Council. had lawful permission to proceed with the work. It became clear to me that the work had not been planned in an open and clear way and there appeared to be either an intended cover-up or an incompetent mess. Before this matter was resolved the destruction of the trees began. The tree-fellers and the police arrived together and in force. Police claimed that up to 30 protesters had been on site in the past. The facts are that on the first day (29 November) there were about 15 and for the last two weeks there has never been more than a handful. On Tuesday 6 December the police telephoned the Huddersfield Green Party office to inform them that no action would be taken by police unless there was a high court injunction. Less than a week later they arrested the Green Party's spokesman, without warning, for climbing a tree. I have since established that the council (Labour) advised the police on the use of the new Act. I arrived around 9:45am to find half the trees already destroyed and saw one in the process of being killed. Although my emotions were running high I was determined to remain calm. I ran to the tree with the intention of talking to the man who was in the tree cutting its limbs off. I got as far as grabbing hold of the tree and was then dragged off by two police officers, without being warned or requested to leave, arrested for breach of the peace, put in a van and taken to the cells. I was on the scene for less than a minute and on the site for only a few seconds. I was told formally by the police that I had been arrested for breach of the peace and that I would be detained until the work at Waterloo was finished. The trees were all dead by around 2pm when my mother requested to the police that I be released. My detention should have been reviewed at 3:45pm, with my right to speak at such a review. This did not happen and I was not released until well after 5pm. I was not charged with 'breach of the peace' but with 'aggravated trespass', i.e. I trespassed on land and attempted to climb a tree with the intent of disrupting a lawful activity. This is the crime I am accused of. During my stay with the police I found that on a personal level they were mostly friendly, appreciated my position and were even sympathetic, but their job is to uphold the law, not define it. They can not express political views, but I got the impression that in general they are against many of the aspects of the new Act and worried about its implications. Coverage in the local paper contained several errors; there were not dozens of protesters and half a dozen police, in fact, to say it was the other way round would be more accurate. The paper claimed that they got their facts from a police spokesman but the police denied that the officer had made such statements. This whole matter prompts many questions; Why was a special police operation or 'Task Force' set up? Why do the police use a spokesman who either lies or does not know the correct facts? What is the real motive behind this Draconian Criminal Justice Act? Should it be a crime to try to protect nature by means of peaceful protest? Why are we allowing the greedy, rich and powerful to continuously rape our beautiful planet and turn it into tarmac and concrete? Why was there only a handful of people protesting in Waterloo? Do you care?
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