Seven protestors have been jailed in the last couple of weeks in London and it is likely that more will follow. The charging and sentencing for these public order offences appears hugely disproportionate and based more on a desire to ‘deter’ than achieve justice.
Francis Fernie was jailed at Kingston Crown Court for violent disorder on the 7th July. He is only the second person to be sentenced for this offence, out of over 30 charged from the London student protests and March 26th Demo. Francis was one of those who handed himself in and made a full confession in interview. He had no previous convictions and having just finished his A-Levels was working with learning impaired adults prior to taking up a place at university this autumn. Despite this he was given a prison sentence of 12 months.
In passing sentence, Judge Nicholas Price said he was giving a much lighter sentence than he was originally thinking of but quoted Lord Justice Thomas in the case of Alhaddad (appeals against sentence from the Gaza demonstrations in 2008/9),
“In our judgment, anyone who engages in violence of this kind must go into custody. They cannot be dealt with by community sentences. The protection of the public and of the police demands that the serious offence of violent disorder on this scale, to which each pleaded guilty, is marked by a custodial sentence.”
Violence of “this kind” meant, in this case, that he had thrown two flimsy placard sticks, which were too light and insubstantial to have caused harm or injury to anyone, in any situation.
It appears the judges ‘starting point’ for sentencing was that adopted during the ‘Gaza trials’, being no less than 2 years 3 months for participants who came to protest peacefully but were “caught up” in the events of the day. The Gaza trials themselves saw horrendously harsh sentences for actions that could not have caused anyone harm.
There are also concerns over the recent conviction and sentencing of seven people for a confrontation between anti-fascist protesters and far-right supporters of a ‘Blood and honour’ gig in Welling in 2009. ‘Blood and Honour’ gigs are openly advertised as fascist and white supremacist, and have links with the violent neo-Nazi organisation Combat 18. Despite this, only anti-fascists were arrested, 22 of whom were charged with ‘conspiracy to violent disorder’. Eleven people have so far stood trial, seven convicted by majority verdict. Four were sentenced immediately to 21 months, three are awaiting reports, two on remand, one on bail and will be sentenced in August.
One of those found not guilty has served a sentence already however, as he has been unable to work as a nurse for more than two years because of comments made by police on his Criminal Records Bureau check.
The second trial, involving the remaining eleven, will start on 12 September.
Anyone wanting to write in support of the prisoners can find contact details on the LDMG website