Appeal begins of protestors accused of causing "chaos" during non-violent occupation of luxury goods store

Nine protesters yesterday began an appeal at Southwark Crown Court after being found guilty in March this year of aggravated trespass with intent to intimidate.

The prosecution opened its case by telling that court that protesters had caused "chaos" in Fortnum & Mason, a luxury goods store in London's Picaddilly, which was occupied by some 200 people for around two hours in March last year as a protest against a £10 million tax avoidance scheme run by the shop's parent company. [1]

The appellants were accused of attempting to "overawe, cow and subdue customers and staff in the shop."

After entering Fortnum & Mason - an "incursion", in the prosecution's words - "the shop was brought to a standstill in seconds."

"This is a clear case of aggravated trespass… Clear force was used to gain entry by the sheer force of numbers… [The protesters] remained in the store with no intention to leave."

"This wasn't a peaceful and civil trespass," said the prosecution, later arguing that it constituted an "attack on Fortnum & Mason, a surprise attack."

As hundreds of thousands of people marched through London as part of a trade union demonstration in March last year, around 200 people occupied the shop, singing songs, chanting and playing beach ball. This, the prosecution stated "of itself seems very harmless," but the overall effect to customers and staff, they argued, was "intimidating and frightening".

Going through video evidence, the majority of which came from in-store CCTV cameras or footage from mobile phones and cameras seized from other arrestees, the prosecution took care to note those appellants who were giving out leaflets and other material including "bust cards", used to inform individuals of their rights should they be arrested.

Along with distributing leaflets, the prosecution also submitted that some of the appellants were "seen to put leaflets in displays."

"One of the features of this occupation was the placing of cards between stock and the wrapping of tape around stock," said the prosecution.

Two witnesses were called, both police officers who were present as protesters entered the store, and were subsequently involved in the attempt to get them to leave.

P.C. Lisa Keeley stated that the scene in the shop was "utter chaos," although in response to questioning from the defence said that it was "chaos as in it was uncontrollable, however it wasn't violent."

Despite this, both officers stated that customers and staff were scared during the protest.

Both P.C. Keeley and her counterpart, P.C. Scarlett, recalled a member of staff who came to them asking whether he could phone his parents "in case he never saw them again."

The nine appellants were originally charged as part of a group of 145, most of whom had the charges dropped.

30 people were eventually charged with aggravated trespass, according to The Guardian on the grounds that they were "more dangerous activists as they were carrying fliers, megaphones and beach balls." [2]

Three trials took place between November 2011 and March this year, with the appellants currently before Southwark Crown Court part of Trial B. The defendants in Trial A are awaiting a date for an appeal hearing before the High Court, having previously been found guilty at a magistrates' court, while all the defendants in Trial C were acquitted in March. [3]

Over 150 people were initially arrested despite a senior officer assuring them that they would be let go once they left the shop, with the police later admitting "deception in the lead-up to the mass arrest." [4]

The case is expected to continue until next Wednesday.

[1] Tax Justice, 'This is why UK Uncut picked on Fortnum's', 28 March 2011
[2] Shiv Malik, 'UK Uncut activist has case dropped after leaflet count error', The Guardian, 13 March 2012
[3] 'UK Uncut protesters cleared of Fortnum and Mason trespass', BBC News, 23 March 2012
[4] Shiv Malik, 'Fortnum & Mason protest: CPS drops charges against 109 UK Uncut activists', The Guardian, 18 July 2011

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