Legal challenge to mass detention of peace campaigners


Peace campaigners have launched a judicial review challenge which argues that the seven
police forces breached their human rights by detaining and preventing them from
demonstrating against the war on Iraq at Fairford air base. The case focuses on events near
Fairford this March, but will have a much wider impact since the campaigners argue that the
Human Rights Act prevents the from police relying on 'common law powers' to detain
would-be protestors.

On 22nd March 2003 three coaches of about 150 peace campaigners set off to join a
demonstration outside a US airbase at Fairford, Gloucestershire. The demonstration
"Flowers for Fairford" was a day of mourning and protest at the base from which American
B52 planes were leaving the UK to bomb Baghdad. The coach passengers detained
included several of the scheduled speakers at the event.

Police from seven forces acting under the direction of Gloucestershire Constabulary
stopped the coaches outside Lechlade, a small village near Fairford. The campaigners and
the coaches were searched, a number of white paper overalls to be worn at the protest
were seized as were two pen knives, some plastic toy soldiers, a hammer, a frisbee and a
saw. There was one arrest for matters unconnected to the demonstration that day and the
person involved was later released without charge.

The remaining campaigners were then invited to reboard the coaches. Once they had done
so, officers told them that they believed a breach of the peace would occur at Fairford and
the coaches would be escorted away. Once back on the motorway however, the coaches
were surrounded by police vans and motorcycle outriders and forced to continue all the
way back to London without a toilet break. Attempts to negotiate one by mobile phone
with Thames Valley police headquarters and with the motorcycle outriders were rebuffed. A
woman passenger on one of the coaches had to resort to urinating into a sandwich box in
full view of two vans of police with video cameras. The coaches were caught in a traffic jam
in Shepherds Bush enabling most of the campaigners to escape, though some were followed
by police and a video made by one campaigner shows others being violently shoved along
the road by officers.

The judicial review papers have been served on the police today. They claim that the
police's actions breached Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which
guarantees freedom from arbitrary detention, along with Articles 10 and 11, the rights to
freedom of speech and assembly, and Article 8 which requires respect for physical and
psychological integrity. In around a month the High Court will decide whether the judicial
review should have permission to proceed. If permission is granted a full hearing should take
place later in the year.

Jane Laporte, the claimant in the judicial review said:

"It is vitally important that people can protest freely, especially about a war pursued without
legal or moral justification. Up until 22nd March I was sure I had that right. The police
apparently thought otherwise. The whole day seemed surreal. I could barely believe that the
police so blatantly forced us back to London. Nor could I believe their concerted efforts to
prevent the coach drivers from even pulling onto the hard shoulder. The police's actions
were an attempt to marginalise and criminalise people who were not happy with simply
marching from Embankment to Hyde Park, over and over again."

John Halford a solicitor at Bindman and Partners who represents Ms Laporte said:

"Democracies are founded on the right not to be detained without
charge, freedom of speech and the right to protest. These basic rights are
more important than

 

Spotted an error? If you've spotted a problem with this page, just click once to let us know.

Report error