Statewatch News Online: Fairford Coach Action - Court of Appeal

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Phone Jane Laporte on 07817 483 167 or Jesse Schust on 0781 458 7361 or e-mail



Anti-war protestors are today celebrating a Court of Appeal ruling which held that the police acted unlawfully in detaining them for 2½ hours without arrests.

The Court of Appeal ruled today that police violated the Human Rights Act when they illegally detained 120 protestors en route to a demonstration at RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire. Giving judgment, Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf stated that:

"the passengers were virtually prisoners on the coaches for the length of the journey…[W]e are not persuaded that there were no less intrusive possible alternative courses of action here.

At the Appeal hearing in October, Gloucestershire police argued that they were in fact protecting the protestors' right to life by detaining them and forcing their return to London. In his witness statement, Chief Superintendent Kevin Lambert, the officer in charge of policing the protest, stated that, 'had a member of the public penetrated the defences and been killed or injured by one of the armed personnel guarding the B52 aircraft…the public reaction and political consequences would have been extremely damaging to the coalition partners'. Helen Wickham, a coach passenger, said: “I think it is deeply worrying that Gloucestershire police, confronted with the possibility of US troops shooting unarmed protestors, chose to defend the US use of lethal force and pursue a political agenda.”

This ruling, which reaffirms a High Court ruling in February, will impact on the policing of future demonstrations and will have implications for the May Day 2001/Oxford Circus cases against the Metropolitan Police early next year.

The ruling was welcomed as a confirmation of the limits of a draconian power which Parliament has never debated or sanctioned. However the protestors feel that the judgment should have gone further and ruled that the police also denied them two other human rights: freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. Jane Laporte, the named claimant, said: “the right to protest is something we celebrate when we see it exercised abroad, but this fundamental democratic freedom has been relegated to a privilege that can be taken away on the whim of a police officer.”

Last March, the protestors and their coaches were searched for nearly two hours and forced back to London under a heavy police escort “to prevent a breach of the peace.” The police argued that this was justified because the protestors were, in their view, “well-armed”.

However, in the original High Court ruling in February, Lord Justice May commented that, “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 air base.”

John Halford, the solicitor at Bindman and Partners representing the group, said today that, “the police action in detaining these protestors was and remains a grotesque abuse of power. What was at stake here today was nothing less than the right to protest in the UK. That this right can be taken away when no crime had been committed and on the flimsiest of pretexts lays the foundation of a police state.”

Jesse Schust, one of the coach passengers, said: “It is particularly ironic that the police violated our human rights by detaining us, when we sought to demonstrate against an illegal war that has devastated Iraq and left over 100,000 dead.”

The detained coach passengers are prepared to take their case to the House of Lords and the European Court of Human Rights.

For more information on Fairford Coach Action, phone Jane Laporte on 07817 483 167 or Jesse Schust on 07814 587 361 or e-mail (A formatted version of this press release is available at the website)
Notes for Journalists

1. Fairford Coach Action is the name of the group of more than 80 passengers who have collectively decided to pursue a Judicial Review case against the police's actions on 22nd March 2003. Full background information is available on the website. Visit the site for links to the full judgement, related web articles, statements of support, and testimonial statements from coach passengers.

2. Interviews with passengers from the coaches can be arranged (please enquire - see contact details above). Dramatic, high-quality, digital video footage and photographs are also available. To use this footage on TV or in film, contact Catherine Bonnici of Journeyman Films ( Tel: 020 8941 9994 Fax: 020 8941 9899).

3. Professional photos of the coach detention are available. Guy Smallman was one of several accredited journalists who were on the coaches. He has a selection of pictures from the day. Contact Guy Smallman 07956 429 059 with enquiries. (These photos are in a suitable format to be wired directly to the picture desk).

4. The solicitor representing the case, John Halford, can be contacted at Bindman & Partners on 020 7833 4433.

5. The Fairford coach case is listed in Amnesty International's report: Europe and Central Asia: Summary of Amnesty International's Concerns in the Region, January ­ June 2004, and was mentioned in Liberty's dossier on the policing at RAF Fairford. Liberty made a submission to the Court of Appeal supporting the passengers' appeal. Other supporters include Ken Livingstone, David Drew, MP (Stroud), Lynne Jones, MP, Caroline Lucas, MEP, Jean Lambert, MEP, and Mark Thomas (see website for quotes).

6. On 22nd March 2003, three days after the start of the US/UK war on Iraq, a demonstration organised by the Gloucestershire Weapons Inspectors (GWI), attracted over 3,000 protestors to the airbase. Groups travelled to Fairford from 37 locations across the UK. American B-52 planes flew from RAF Fairford airbase to bomb Baghdad (see ) and Fairford was the site of excessive policing during the war on Iraq. (Within 52 days (from 6 March 2003), police conducted over 2000 anti-terror searches in the vicinity.) GWI, Berkshire CIA and Liberty issued a dossier showing how stop and search powers of the Terrorism Act 2000 were misused by police. For the report "Casualty of War - 8 weeks of counter-terrorism in rural England" see and The Government estimated the added cost of policing RAF Fairford was £6.9 million. The airbase continues to be upgraded for use by US Stealth (B2) Bombers, greatly expanding the US capacity to "invisibly" deploy tactical nuclear weapons anywhere in the world within hours. Further info at and

7. The main defendant in the case is The Chief Constable of Gloucestershire Constabulary; the two interested parties are the Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police and the Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police.

8. The Human Rights Act 1998 came into force in October 2000. It requires the police and other public authorities to avoid breaching key European Convention Human Rights Articles save where legislation makes this impossible. Amongst the key rights are Article 5 (deprivation of liberty must be justified in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law and on one of the five grounds listed in paragraph (1) of the Article), Article 10 (freedom of speech and expression) and Article 11 (freedom of assembly).

9. At common law a constable may arrest a person without warrant whom he or she reasonably believes will commit a breach of the peace in the immediate future, even though at the time of the arrest such person has not committed any breach. This power is subject to a number of strict restrictions, however: the belief must relate to an act or threatened act harming any person or, in his presence, his property, or which puts a person in fear of such harm; the belief must relate to the likely actions of the particular individual or individuals against whom the power is used; and when the particular individual is acting lawfully at the time the power is used, the threat of his committing a breach of the peace must be sufficiently real and imminent to justify the use of such a draconian power.

From the Press Team at the Fairford Coach Action:

See also: UK: Protesters were held unlawfully, court rules - 120 people prevented from attending demonstration against Iraq war at RAF Fairford will claim £3,000 each Fairford (link)

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