- Created: Friday, 20 February 2015 11:48
- Written by Manchester FRFI
On 16-17 February three activists stood trial in Manchester on Public Order charges, following their arrests in a violent police attack on pro-Palestine protesters on 16 August 2014. After a seven month legal ordeal, during which they were banned from Market Street – a focus of protest in Manchester – the trial at the magistrates' court ended with one not guilty verdict, one case thrown out for lack of evidence and one activist found guilty on the verbal 'evidence' of three police officers who had clearly worked on their story. The fight for justice will continue as three more activists face trial in April. The situation is clear: building solidarity with Palestine must also mean a fight for our own rights in imperialist Britain.
As we reported at the time of the arrests (Manchester - defend the right to protest for Palestine), the police crackdown on the protests against Israel's attack on Gaza was led by Manchester Labour council. Leading councillors Pat Karney and Richard Leese labelled peaceful demonstrators as 'extremists and revolutionaries' and publicly called for the pickets to end. At least 12 people were arrested, some of them violently, with 9 people being dragged through the courts. These attempts to destroy the Palestinian people's support base in Manchester have failed. The boycott Israel actions continue to gather support in the city.
After day one of the trial, the inconsistent, unsubstantiated claims of the police witnesses seemed clear. Despite the claims of Inspector Rose and six constables that the demonstrators had created a hostile environment during the August protests, video evidence showed the police to be the aggressors. One officer even claimed that the protesters had aimed at 'invading the Arndale' shopping centre – which was totally untrue. On the day a police line had blocked protesters from getting to Marks and Spencer and after 10 minutes of chanting the march calmly headed back towards Piccadilly. Police ran to get in front of the gathering and literally picked off four activists for arrest. Comrade Louis was arrested while walking between police lines – police later said that he threatened PC Mackay – and comrades Annika and Francesco were arrested for trying to 'prevent' the other arrest.
Witness evidence helped to show that Annika and Francesco were the victims of police aggression, refuting police claims that Annika in particular had been violent – videos from the day show her screaming in pain as a heavy gang of police use pain tactics to 'restrain' her. It was clear that Francesco's thoughts were to stay close to his partner and the case against him was thrown out. Annika was initially charged with assaulting an officer – a ludicrous claim – and was eventually found not guilty of any offence.
Despite a lack of evidence to back up the police's claim of 'threatening or abusive behaviour', and with video showing a heavy buildup of police, comrade Louis was found guilty and fined over £850. The judge found the police testimony to be 'powerful'. In reality, its only power was in showing how police officers can concoct stories and have them believed by highly paid magistrates who work for the same employers. The campaign must now decide its next move and discuss the possibilities for appeal. Nevertheless we can celebrate a small victory with the police's failure to convict the three other defendants so far; comrade Ashleigh Shaw was also found not guilty of Public Order offences in January.
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!/RCG has played a leading role in publicising the court cases and making sure nobody is unaccompanied to a bail hearing. Solidarity is essential to building a movement. In the 24 hours following the most recent verdict, supporters of the campaign raised over £700 of the £850 court costs!
We call on all supporters to donate to the defence campaign and give solidarity to the ongoing struggle for justice.
Donations can be made until 3 March at www.igg.me/at/paldefence
Drop the charges!
Victory to the Palestinian people!