Love Activists – how the law can bend and sway and bend again

07 #loveactivists Cavell House, 2a Charing Cross Road is a five-storey building opposite the National Gallery, with secure vaults, large entertainment and conference rooms, and a top floor penthouse suite with great views across London. Last occupied by Royal Bank of Scotland, the building has lain empty for over a year, and squatters moved in late on Friday evening. The new occupiers received notice of civil proceedings to take place on 29th December. These proceedings were instigated by a company called Greencap Ltd. which claimed to own the building, but which is an offshore shell company that paid no tax last year, seems to have dissolved, and has a value of £9. With good press coverage, the occupiers, calling themselves the “Love Activists” announced their intention to use the building over the Xmas period to provide shelter for homeless people and to cook a Christmas dinner. They attracted several hundred pounds in donations from the public to do so. However, Greencap secretly went to court and applied for an emergency injunction. This was served by unidentified bailiffs early this morning, who aided by police, managed to evict all but two protesters. The two, known as Danny and Mouse, went over a balcony and sat precariously on a ledge, refusing to move and causing police to set up a cordoned area on the pavement below. 10 #loveactivists 08 #loveactivists As supporters gathered outside the National Portrait Gallery throughout the day, legal advice, hard to come by with aid cuts in 2014, and even harder to find on Christmas Eve, eventually led to one of the activists, Pete Phoenix, putting together an ‘out of hours’ application to the High Court to vary or discharge the injunction that had been served this morning. 06 #loveactivists While people waited for a judgement from the High Court, various officers talked to Danny and Mouse trying to persuade them to come down, but despite the wind and cold, and the need for a toilet, they stayed put, only allowing police to put some rubber wire harnesses round them to prevent a fall. 05 #loveactivists Finally, the activists heard back from Mrs. Justice Andrews, and she ruled a variation to the injunction in their favour, that “nothing shall prevent entry to the premises in order to prepare for and provide a Christmas dinner for the homeless”, and that for the avoidance of any doubt, the original order could not be used to evict or prevent from entering, anyone involved in the preparation and provision of that dinner. This was an unequivocal victory and was met by celebration and cheering. 04 #loveactivists 03 #loveactivists But the officer in charge, Inspector Evans, refused to read the ruling at first, because it was on a mobile phone (which clearly showed the sending address as the high court), demanding a print copy instead. An internet cafe was found and the document printed, but the Inspector had done a runner. It took nearly an hour before he was next sighted, and a Superintendent who arrived was no help either.

a Sergeant takes a look at injunction

a Sergeant takes a look at the new court order

Evans promised to return “in a minute”, but this turned into another half hour, during which time, the balcony activists were persuaded into the building on the basis that the injunction had been overturned. But they were then arrested “on suspicion of criminal damage”, and only after they were removed from the building, the Inspector finally spoke to activists about the new ruling. He said the police had been “trying to establish if the ruling was genuine” but had been unable to do so. He also said that even if it was, since the activists no longer had possession of the building, (thanks to Danny and Mouse’s arrest), they would need to have it enforced by High Court bailiffs, and couldn’t just walk back in. He claimed that the police were only there to prevent any breach of the peace and that it was a purely civil matter, and that not even they could effect entry to the building – he wouldn’t answer under what legal basis he and at least a dozen other police had been entering and leaving all afternoon and evening. Apparently satisfied that his work was done, he disappeared off into the night, leaving two officers at the main door. Although several Gurka security guards were now inside the building, the balcony was empty and all the lights were off. 01 #loveactivists So it seems the law can bend one way for the rich, and another for the poor. When the offshore shell company got its emergency injunction, with no notice to the defendants, giving a telephone number that is unobtainable, bailiffs were accompanied at 8am this morning by more than a dozen police to effect what turns out to be an unlawful eviction based on a document filed by a dissolved company that doesn’t pay any taxes. But when the High Court rules that a dinner for the homeless should be allowed to go ahead, and that the original injunction cannot be construed to stop people from doing so, the police question the veracity of the ruling and continue to guard the building, all paid for by our taxes. Some good news to end the evening however. The secure basement in the building has tonight been retaken by activists, and the Christmas dinner WILL go ahead there at least. Any further attempt at eviction will undoubtedly be completely unlawful. And Danny and Mouse have been released around midnight without charge – so the arrest really does look like a deliberate ploy by the police to side with an offshore company against the homeless and even to subvert the ruling of a High Court Judge.

UPDATE 1am Xmas Morning The mysterious Greencap Ltd company are seriously determined to stop the planned homeless Christmas dinner and have paid for yet another court order, very late on Christmas Eve that overturns Mrs Justice Andrews’ amendment made at tea-time. So once again, police (who actively interfered with the successful implementation of the previous court order and expressed disbelief that it was a genuine document) are happy to run to the aid of private owners and their security goons to evict the Love Activists on the basis of a new document. They’ve failed to provide a stamped copy to the activists however. Eviction is in progress.

Occupy returns to Parliament Square

This morning, Occupy activists began another weekend occupation of Parliament Square. Once again, fences have gone up, not just around the grass (supposedly closed for repairs), but also around all the concreted areas, along with high fences around the grass in front of the Supreme Court at the rear of the Square.

GLA notices state that the Square is closed to the public, and warn that “failure to comply with a reasonable request from an authorised officer is a criminal offence” – this begs the question, what is “reasonable”? It’s hard to get any “reason” for the closure, mainly because if the authorities admit it is in order to stop protest, they will fall foul of human rights law, so they contort themselves into totally unreasonable knots to avoid stating the bleeding obvious.

GLA notice

Unperturbed, the activists set up on the pavement at the front of the Square, sitting on a tarpaulin to listen to various speakers throughout the day, including a fascinating history of squatting and squatting law by Phoenix.

Pheonix on squatting

They received regular honks of support from passing motorists, who could hardly miss the huge “Real Democracy” banner held throughout the day by several volunteers.

Honk

Banner

Policing was fairly low-key for much of the day, but very intelligence-led, with FIT photographers working there this morning, a very high definition camera on a stalk above an unmarked van parked up behind the gates at Parliament, and some Police Liaison Officers, who showed their real agenda by mainly liaising with the Heritage Wardens rather than the activists.

Liaison

Police surveillance camera

Meanwhile, up the road at Downing Street, there was a protest about fuel poverty, with two men stripped down to Bermuda shorts, occasionally joined by a third, braving the cold in solidarity with the growing number of UK citizens unable to heat their homes.

Fuel Poverty

Fuel Poverty at Downing St

They are promoting Fuel Poverty Action’s “Energy Bill of Rights” which you can find out how to support by visiting their website.

Occupy have announced that 30 volunteers are holding the protest area overnight, and you can see their full programme of events for tomorrow here.

UPDATE – around 8pm, activists opened the barriers and asserted their rights to enter the Square. Some activists sat on a tarpaulin and a large number of police with no more pressing business (must be a very quiet crime night in London) arrived on the scene.

Fossil Free Nativity play calls for Methodist Church investment

On Friday, the Church of England, which invests around £100m in Shell and £50m in BP, announced that they would be urging the oil companies to “adapt their business” to cut back on carbon emission and invest much more in renewables. They intend to file a shareholder’s resolution at Shell’s 2015 AGM next summer, calling for routine reporting on climate change response, and renewable investment strategies.

While a significant move, it falls far short of both UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon and the World Council of Churches’ calls for oil divestment, which form part of a rapidly growing movement in the wake of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that to avoid catastrophic climate change, 80% of oil assets MUST remain in the ground.

So while the hugely powerful multi-national oil lobby continues to invest in oil exploration and talks about carbon capture, it is facing serious opposition as huge investors like the British Medical Association, numerous city councils and universities, and even the oil-rich Rockefeller Foundation divest from the industry, not just on the basis of potential climate change, but as a sound financial decision, backed by forecasts from the IMF and Bank of England, warning of overvalued carbon assets, liable to become problematic “stranded assets”. It’s estimated the oil industry lost $4.2 billion worth of investment in 2014 alone as major shareholders moved to greener and ethical funds.

The Methodist Church is a huge body with more than £1 billion investments in the stock market, controlled by its Central Finance Board (CFB), and advised by the Joint Advisory Committee on the Ethics of Investment (JACEI), which recognised in its 2014 report that “fuel extraction companies may remain profitable at the expense of the planet”, and yet takes the position that it has a fiduciary duty to maximise return on its investments, that “stranded assets” are some years down the line, and that it is better to engage and influence oil companies through shareholdings rather than divest.

So yesterday, Christian Climate Change and Divest London activists staged a cheeky Fossil-Free Nativity performance outside the Westminster Methodist Church HQ, to publicise their divestment pressure campaign.

02  fossil free nativity

While a narrator and the Archangel Gabriel took to the stage and introduced other characters and their Fossil-Free nativity, the congregation of around 30 supporters sang subverted hymns such as “No Oil” (to the tune of Noel), “In the Peak Oil Winter”, and “Bad King Herod Once Looked Out”.

07  fossil free nativity

After Gabriel visits Mary to tell her about the future King, he leaves with the warning:
One last thing. Watch out for Herod, he’s a little bit crazy.
He does everything he’s told by his advisors, EDF and BP.
They have him all wrapped up, and for their own improvement
are unlikely to aid in the Peace on Earth Movement.

04  fossil free nativity

After which the congregation burst into song:
No Oil, No Oil, the angels did sing,
No more fossil fuels just invest in green things.

Once the baby Jesus is born, the shepherds complaining about the weather, and one says:
I know what you mean, and what’s more galling,
That Roman Centurion took my tarpaulin

01  fossil free nativity

Meanwhile, after intercepting Joseph’s emails, Herod is after the baby Jesus, to try to corrupt him with riches from the oil companies, and the Narrator asks:
Will he grow up to be wise, gentle and meek
resisting the strong and uplifting the weak?
Or maybe he will be lazy, proud and rash
and fill up his pockets with oil stained cash

03  fossil free nativity

The play ended with “Away In the Manger” and a message to the Methodist Church:
Now close your investments in all fossil fuels
Take care of the planet stop listening to fools.

The cast took a quick photo-call inside the Methodist Centre around the statue of John Wesley, before being ushered out by security.

06  fossil free nativity

They also invited people to sign postcards addressed to the Chair of JACEI, Rev John Howard, calling for divestment.

05  fossil free nativity

There’s a chance to catch another performance at the Occupy weekend in Parliament Square on 20th/21st December.

Fuel Poverty Action as winter mortality rates revealed.

The Office for National Statistics revealed today that “excess winter mortality” last year reached more than 18,000 deaths in England and Wales alone, with old people by far the most affected, and an estimated 30% (according to World Health Organisation) of these were due to the impact of living in cold homes.

Last winter was actually quite mild, so these figures were down on the previous year, when an estimated 10,000 deaths were attributed to the cold, while the Big Six energy companies recorded profits of £3.7 billion, helped no doubt by the lobbying skills of their trade association, “Energy UK”, based at Charles House in Lower Regent Street.

It was there this lunchtime, following a short march from Pall Mall and a brief die-in, that pensioners and other activists ignored the ‘protest pen’ and blockaded the doors of Energy UK with a peaceful and animated protest, while police redirected traffic around pensioner, Terry, who continued a one-man die-in.

07 fuel poverty action

08 fuel poverty action

In solidarity with cold people everywhere, legendary livestreamer, Obi worked in brightly-coloured pants, broadcasting speeches and chants from an array of group representatives (Fuel Poverty Action, Greater London Pensioners’ Association, Disabled People Against Cuts, Global Women’s Strike, All African Women’s Group, and Reclaim The Power) and other individuals.

01 fuel poverty action

11 fuel poverty action

02 fuel poverty action

In an attempt to confront fuel poverty, the campaign is calling for an Energy Bill of Rights, which has received the support of the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas, who sponsored an Early Day Motion, signed so far by just 22 MPs, none of them from the Con-Dem coalition.

06 fuel poverty action

12 fuel poverty action

13 fuel poverty action

With an estimated 1 in 4 families having to making winter choices between food and heating, and more than 4 million homes in debt to energy companies, it is clear that this deadly situation must be changed.

16 fuel poverty action

15 fuel poverty action

Fuel Poverty Action have produced “Know Your Rights” information  to help people struggling with energy bills, and they continue to campaign for a democratic, affordable and sustainable energy future.

More info at fuelpovertyaction.wordpress.com

No austerity at Parliament Square

Earlier this evening, up to a hundred people gathered at Parliament Square for the start of a weekend of workshops, conversations, talks, music, entertainment and planning. The ‘occupy’ movement found that Boris’s GLA fences have been extended even further, so the whole square is now out of bounds to the public.

01 occupy N21

Despite the announcement that 12% of police jobs are under threat due to austerity cuts, it seemed no expense was spared to protect the grass from spontaneous democracy tonight, with around 60 police spread out a few feet apart entirely encircling the perimeter fences, as well as the “heritage wardens” keeping guard inside, and police photographers and their intelligent-gathering ‘police liaison officers’ mingling with the crowd and journalists on the thin strip of pavement at the front.

00 occupy N21

02 occupy N21

Despite threats of arrest, there is still no law against gathering or even protesting, only a set of restrictions that make it very difficult, so the occupation goes on, and after some marching , the group later found a safer space with more room behind the square in front of the Supreme Court.

One person was arrested near the Nelson Mandela statue after a good-natured attempt to break through one of the fences.

There’s some great coverage with live video feeds, but check out the programme of events and join in if you can.  occupydemocracy.org.uk

Students’ national march against fees and cuts – report and pics

On November 10th 2010, the Tory HQ at Millbank was left virtually unprotected by police, despite a passing march by thousands of students angry over government plans to massively raise tuition fees.

Most readers will no doubt know that as a result, a mass occupation and serious damage took place that afternoon. Whether the lack of police was a plan or a cock-up, it led to later student marches being met with a series of police traps, mass kettles, extreme provocation and violence, and severe injuries, in what appeared to be large scale indiscriminate extra-judicial punishment against any students daring to raise their democratic voices. This was backed up with a mainstream media campaign of lies and demonisation. (Links to my reports at the time N24/1, N24/2, N24/3, N30/1, N30/2).

Four years on, a similar scenario unfolded yesterday afternoon over hours rather than weeks – the inexplicably hands-off policing at Parliament Square and the new Tory HQ in Matthew Parker Street turned later into arbitrary violence and arrests as riot police chased, attacked and dispersed a large breakaway group of students around Westminster and Victoria.

The protest began in Malet Street, where, despite the National Union of Students officially pulling out due to “safety concerns”, several thousand student activists still gathered for the march to Parliament which was co-organised and now promoted by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC).

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts

There were Forward Intelligence Officers as well as many ‘Police Liaison Officers’ (who also feedback intelligence), among the crowd, and given that there were dozens of ‘Blac Bloc’ overtly carrying a large banner that read “Millbank Everything”, it would take a high degree of stupidity, or some ulterior motive, for police commanders not to protect the new Tory HQ if nowhere else.

The main march was largely uneventful apart from a couple of stops at anti-capitalist targets such as Topshop and Starbucks, entrances briefly blocked by students chanting “Pay Your Taxes”.

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts

Given the ridiculous fencing around Parliament Square (which was guarded by a hundred or more police on the recent Million Mask March), it was odd that fewer than a dozen officers were deployed there yesterday. And when the march arrived at the Square, those officers first looked on as people climbed over the double barriers, and then they briefly fought some masked protesters who were staring to dismantle the inner fences.

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts

Meanwhile, behind the scuffling cops, other students easily pulled down the fences, and soon hundreds streamed on to the square, re-enacting the occupation that took place last time students challenged Boris’s democracy-bashing enclosure of the publicly-funded privately-owned grass of Parliament Square. The handful of police withdrew, one of them muttering “this was a fuck-up”.

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts

And while more students ensured the double-barriers were also opened up for free access, and others danced and drummed on the grass in front of Parliament, the only police presence was distant and mainly comprised of surveillance.

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts

Many students carried on to the rally point and listened to various speakers, but several hundred formed the breakaway group around the Square, who after a while decided to move off towards Victoria Street.

As I ran ahead to the Tory HQ, their obvious target, I was surprised to find fewer than a dozen police there, who seemed oblivious to the impending crowd of hundreds of angry activists. Despite the students’ anger and their numerical advantage there was actually only one half-hearted attempt to breach the thin blue line when a handful of students ran forward pushing a wheelie bin. As police raised batons and tried to grab the rammers, two people were arrested.

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts

There were no serious attempts at de-arrest and the crowd moved on rather aimlessly into Green Park, and then in a circle via Parliament Square, to the Dept for Business, Innovation and Skills, where again, just a handful of officers stood between the crowd and the entrance, with some mild pushing and noisy chants, and two paint bombs made from sucked and refilled eggs.

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts

It was here though, that things began to change as first TSG officers moved in pushing people aggressively, and then vans of police in full riot gear turned up.

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts
The students quickly moved on up Victoria Street away from the police, and then there was a stand-off as dozens of TSG officers rushed to guard a Starbucks outlet which then became the target of another couple of paint-bombs.

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts

It all started to get quite messy as police tactics seemed to turn to aggression, random lines across the road, and then some running chases. During one of these, I was pushed from behind, Tomlinson style, without warning, despite doing nothing other than photographing all afternoon, and I saw one running protester have his legs kicked out from under him by a thug in uniform. Unsurprisingly, some further scuffles ensued, and there were some seemingly arbitrary arrests.

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts

As more TSG started chasing groups of students anxious to avoid violence, kettling, or arrest, the march dispersed widely.

From the ludicrously unprepared policing of earlier afternoon, to the widespread intimidation and violence of later, took just 90 minutes resulting in 11 arrests, including affray and assaulting police, as well as several injuries.

A few students and a small samba band reconvened in Parliament Square, but when, after around 20 minutes, six riot vans turned up, people dispersed quietly. Then a group of a hundred or so arrived who had ended up marching via Buckingham Palace earlier, but dozens of police lined the precious grass, and protest was safely prohibited once more.

19th nov 2014 student's national march against fees and cuts

NCAFC have claimed today that all arrestees were later released without a single charge, but the Met haven’t confirmed this yet, and some may have been bailed of course.

Quite how long the GLA intend to keep up the eyesore of fences around our “national heritage” site is anyone’s guess, but they face their next challenge tomorrow when ‘Occupy’ are planning another weekend of events in the Square starting 6pm.

National funeral for the unknown victims of traffic violence in London.

A year ago, there was a spate of six cyclist deaths in London over a period of a few days, sparking the ‘Stop Killing Cyclists’ campaign, which staged a huge die-in outside the Transport for London offices.

Since that event, and despite one PR release after another from Boris Johnson, the reality is that not a single penny extra has been spent on improving cycling infrastructure, and in fact, in the interests of “traffic flow”, the Mayor has cut the times on pedestrian crossings, making pensioners and disabled people even more vulnerable to traffic violence.

So the campaign has broadened, becoming Stop The Killing, and yesterday’s funeral and die-in was a public call for ten demands to stop the cull – 2.4 million people have been killed or injured in road accidents in the past decade.

00 funeral

Several hundred people gathered in Bedford Square and followed a horse-drawn hearse in a slow protest march along Oxford Street, handing out hundreds of flyers to passers-by.

01 funeral

02 funeral

03 funeral

At Marble Arch, the crowd listened to some poetry and singing, including ‘Ode to Freedom’ and ‘Ave Maria’, before flowers were laid on the coffin and a powerful ten-minute die-in took place.

04 funeral

05 funeral

07 funeral

08 funeral

A wide variety of speakers then addressed the packed area. Tom Kearney (Safer Oxford Street Campaign) spoke of his near-death experience after being struck by a bus on the UK’s most polluted and London’s most dangerous street.

Professor Brendan Delaney spoke about how Dutch style cycle facilities could transform our city and lessen the 4000 deaths per year caused by particulate pollution, as well as reducing diabetes and obesity rates, with huge savings to the NHS.

Bart Chan also thanked the NHS for saving his own life after he was hit by an HGV while cycling in the City of London, where the authorities maintain a ban on segregated cycle lanes.

Andrew Smith, a professional actuary, told us that among 20-40 year old women, the biggest cause of death was road collisions, while among men in the same age range it was only second to suicide. Traffic pollution accounts for 1 in 5 cancer deaths, and obesity, which is partly due to car culture, inactivity, and lack of exercise, is linked to more than half the death rate in our society.

Dominique Vesco, the mother of a French student living in London who was killed, aged 19, while cycling with friends to Brighton, spoke of the fact that the driver was never prosecuted, and gave her support for the need for a “Liability Law”.

Terry Hurlstone took the stage and described how he helped organise a sit-down by around 150 protesters in Oxford Street 42 years ago, bringing traffic to a stop with a huge chain between lamp-posts across the road. He was arrested and given a large fine, but with the help of Peter Hain (one of the demonstrators), an appeal was launched, the police withdrew, and he was left without a blemish on his name.

terry hurlstone

terry hurlstone

Islington Green Party councillor, Caroline Russell, made the link with climate change. Around a fifth of carbon emissions are from transport, and it continues to expand. She said we need a huge shift in culture and transport systems in cities, pointing out that we have the means, but not the political will.

Donnachadh McCarthy, one of the main organisers of the event, finished the afternoon by comparing UK and Dutch expenditure on cycling. In Holland, the government spends £28 per person on cycle infrastructure, whereas in the UK, Labour spent only £1, and the Con-Dem govt, just £2.

10 funeral

He took us through the ten demands that the campaign is making, finishing on a positive note, thanking the hundreds who had attended the event, and reminding us of the benefits to climate, health, and community, as well as the economic benefits, lessening the strain on the NHS, and changing the quality of life and culture of cities.

06 funeral