Samuel Pepper Sharp, age 24 from Scarborough, was last week found guilty of aggravated trespass at the Millbank Tower on November 10th 2010. Students had occupied the Conservative headquarters in protest at the increase in student fees. Samuel was convicted despite an absence of evidence that he had done anything other than simply being in the building. Mere trespass is not, under UK law, a criminal offence.
The judgement, given by District Judge Snow in Westminster magistrates court, suggested there was an assumption of ‘collective guilt’ rather than a decision based on Samuels own actions. In fact, the only substantive evidence against Samuel was a witness statement from his arresting officer, which stated he was arrested in the reception area of 30 Millbank.
Some protestors have said they were carried into the foyer that day by the force of the large crowd surging forward, and that police then prevented them from leaving the building for reasons of ‘health and safety’, as police struggled to contain the demonstration around Millbank.
Taherali Gulamhussein, from the Network for Police Monitoring, stated that the convictions were a “watering down of the requirement to prove guilt beyond all reasonable doubt”.
He has also criticised the Metropolitan for knowingly prosecuting students with insufficient evidence of them having committed a criminal offence.
“The Met police are duty bound to the court to serve the interests of justice and not to serve the interests of the prosecution. Prosecuting people without any evidence is political policing – pandering to public gallery”, he said.
Concerns have also been raised at the apparent severity of sentencing. Aggravated trespass carries a maximum sentence of three months in prison, but is normally dealt with by way of a fine or conditional discharge.
Samuel, a first time offender, received a five month curfew, with a requirement to be at his home from 8pm to 6am. He is also required to carry out 150 hours of community service. DJ Snow had previously considered a custodial sentence, indicating that he thought that “prison would be appropriate”. Other demonstrators convicted of aggravated trespass at Millbank have also been subjected to curfews and unpaid work.
Samuel said, “I feel strongly that DJ Snows judgement was politically motivated. I will be taking this case to the High court to make an appeal. I think it is important that, especially in the current situation of political sentencing, people feel confident in holding the police and the courts to account, and that as social movements we can increase our collective strength by doing so.”