A magistrates judge has ruled that police acted unlawfully when arresting six anti-deportation campaigners who were blockading Colnbrook detention centre, near Heathrow airport, on 12th May, 2009, to try and prevent Iraqi refugees from being forcibly deported to Iraqi Kurdistan on a specially chartered flight.
Sitting at the Uxbridge Magistrates Court, Judge Jane Wright concluded that "the exclusive aim" of giving the order under Section 14 of the Public Order Act* by the senior police officer present at the scene, Inspector Beattie, was "to facilitate the deportation of a number of people to Iraq without further ado." This was due to the fact that the issuing of the Order was in direct response to a radio message from the chief inspector in charge of the operation back at the police station relaying the concerns of Colnbrook management that that the 'convoy' may be subject to some form of interference on route and that it was particularly important that the scheduled flight on which the 'prisoners' were to be returned must not be delayed.
Rejecting police claims that the protest would have caused 'serious disruption to the life of the community' or that its purpose was 'to intimidate others', Ms Wright said, "By any view it cannot be said that the purpose of the demonstration was to intimidate. Its clear purpose was to prevent the deportation of an individual and I do not find that Inspector Beattie believed, let alone reasonably believed, that the purpose of the protesters was to intimidate others with a view to compelling them not to do an act they had a right to do."
Police had initially charged the protesters with 'trespassory assembly' under Section 14B(2) and (6) of the Public Order Act 1986. However, the Act defines 'assembly' as an assembly of 20 or more persons, but the total number of protesters was no more than 15. So in July 2009, the police changed the charge to Section 14(5) and (9) of the Public Order Act, which make it an offence to take part in a 'public assembly' and knowingly fail to comply with a condition imposed by the senior police officer present at the scene. This led to Ms Wright stating in her verdict that, "I have found that the only purpose of giving the order falls outside the considerations to which Inspector Beattie is entitled to have regard and it follows that the order was not lawful." "If the order isn't lawful," she added, "it isn't an offence not to comply with it and consequently I find all six of the defendants not guilty."
The defendants' argument was that their action was "reasonable and proportionate" to the threat faced by deportees and that the defence of necessity should be open to them. The Crown Prosecution did not accept that their actions were reasonable and proportionate and argued that a "reasonable person would not have acted in such a fashion" and even "the reasonable direct action protester" would not have acted in the way the defendants did, in reference to using glass and concrete blocks. Inspector Beattie, however, said in court, whilst giving evidence, that he had found the defendants "well behaved, pleasant even."
*For an order to be given under Section 14 of the Public Order Act, the senior officer present at the scene must reasonably believe that it may result in serious public disorder, serious damage to property, or serious disruption to the life of the community, or that the purpose of the persons organising it is the intimidation of others with a view to compelling them not to do an act they have a right to do or to do an act they have a right not to do.