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No ASBO, but curfew and electronic tagging for peace campaigner


 

Background to report

A Hull grandmother could be the first peace campaigner to be served an anti-social behaviour order.

Health visitor Lindis Percy, 64, will be sentenced next week for five offences including obstructing a police officer and obstructing the highway following a demonstration outside a US military base.

Mrs Percy is one of the original Greenham Common peace women and has campaigned against nuclear weapons for more than 20 years.

Now, Harrogate Magistrates' Court may impose the anti-social behaviour order (Asbo), introduced by the Government to tackle anti-social crime and unruly youngsters.

It is the first time the Crown Prosecution Service has applied for an Asbo against a peace campaigner engaging in demonstrations.

Today, Mrs Percy said: "I am surprised and deeply concerned that an Asbo has been applied for.

"The legislation was not brought in to be used against peaceful protest.''

Mrs Percy, joint co-ordinator of the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases, was charged following weekly meetings outside the American base at Menwith Hill, near Harrogate.

The demonstrations have taken place every Tuesday evening for the past five years. However, since May last year, Mrs Percy has been charged almost every week following the peaceful demonstration, with 30 cases being put before the court.

Of those, seven sample cases were taken forward. She was cleared of two and convicted of five at an earlier hearing at Harrogate magistrates.

Crown Prosecutor Robert Moore immediately applied for an Asbo against Mrs Percy.

District Judge Roy Anderson warned her he was "leaving all sentencing options open" for her Tuesday, May 17, court appearance.

He will also decide if the Asbo, believed to be on behalf of the Ministry of Defence Police Agency and North Yorkshire Police, should be granted.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "We have taken action to try to limit the impact she is having. If the court decides to grant an Asbo, great. If not, we will respect their decision."

 


Court hearing

Many people came to Harrogate Magistrates Court to hear Roy Anderson (District Judge) sentence Lindis Percy and to decide whether to grant the application for an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO), ostensibly applied for by the Ministry of Defence Police Agency (MDPA) and North Yorkshire Police (NYP). A bigger court had to be made available to accommodate everyone. Many representatives from the media (local and national) were also present.

At the start of the hearing, Roy Anderson decided he would rule on the application for the ASBO first.  Although he had been given a copy of the application immediately after the trial on 14 April 2005 (when he had found Lindis guilty of 5 offences - see CAAB Report no. 168 on website), the District Judge asked for a copy from Robert Moore (Crown Prosecutor (CP) representing the MDPA and NYP).  It was slightly surprising when Robert Moore (CP) said he did not have a copy and wondered if he could borrow Richard Reed's copy (solicitor representing Lindis).

Richard Reed immediately reminded the District Judge that he had previously said, when making his decision concerning the application, that he would be 'striking the excesses of the ASBO application from his mind'. Also he would be making his decision on the evidence he had heard and seen (seven CCTV video recordings) during the original trial. In his summing up at that hearing, Roy Anderson said that the weekly CAAB demonstrations were 'peaceable but not passive'. 

A folder of references was handed to the Judge in support of Lindis.

Richard Reed read from the Home Office Guidelines (the process to go through when Agencies apply for ASBOs against individuals). He said that the application was not appropriate as it did not pass the first test. Anti-social behaviour has a wide legal definition (refer to the Crime and Disorder Act 1998). 'It is behaviour which causes or is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more people who are not in the same household as the perpetrator.' He read a section of the Foreword to the Guidelines by Jack Straw (Home Secretary). Richard Reed again reminded the District Judge that in his own summing up, he had stated that the CAAB demonstrations were peaceful. 

Richard Reed also said that the Home Office Guidelines had suggested that if possible, a mediation process should be attempted to resolve conflicts. He said that a letter had been sent to David Long (MDPA Superintendent at the American base - Menwith Hill) last year, suggesting a meeting between himself, Richard Reed and Lindis. The letter was not replied to. Another letter was sent to Menwith Hill by Richard Reed. After an inordinate delay, a reply was received saying that discussions were to take between several Agencies including 'the stakeholder' (ie the American authorities on base). There was a further delay in responding, which prompted another reminder letter from Richard Reed.  At the beginning of 2005, David Long wrote to Richard Reed saying that a meeting would not now take place because of the pending court cases.

Richard Reed also said that the Defence had not once asked for an adjournment. He said that all the delays in the stages of the trial were due to the Crown Prosecution Service.

In his ruling on the application for an ASBO, Roy Anderson said '...None of the incidents was accompanied by aggressive behaviour, abusive language or threats of violence. Mrs Percy has previous convictions but they all seem to relate to and stem from her activities as a peace campaigner. She may, in her relentless expression of her views, be thought by many to be a fanatic and by some to be a crank. Nevertheless she is entitled to express these views unless she breaks the criminal law of this country.

'I am firmly of the view courts ought not to allow ASBOs to be used as a club to beat down the expression of legitimate comment and the dissemination of views on matters of public concern...'  Roy Anderson refused to grant the ASBO application. 

At this, there was spontaneous applause from people in the court. The District Judge wryly thanked those applauding for their approval.

Roy Anderson then went on to decide the sentence (at a previous hearing on 14 April 2005  he had found Lindis guilty of one offence of 'obstruction of the highway' and four of 'obstruction of a police officer in the execution of his duty'). He made the surprising decision to order her to be electronically tagged and to be curfewed in her home from the hours of 8pm to 6am for a period of 8 weeks. Robert Moore (CP) asked for prosecution costs of 500 for each offence (total 2500). Richard Reed said that Lindis owed 3,600 to the court which she continued to pay at 5 per week. The DJ remarked 'that will take a long time to pay off' and promptly ordered costs against her of 1,000. 

Lindis felt moved to quietly and politely respond to Roy Anderson's decision. He refused to listen and left the court to a dignified chorus of 'shame, shame, shame'. 

Later Richard Reed (solicitor) faxed an Appeal to York Crown Court against the convictions and sentence imposed on Lindis. Both the convictions and sentence are now 'on hold' pending the Appeal. She has therefore not been 'tagged' or 'curfewed'.

CAAB and especially Lindis would like to thank everyone so much for the wonderful support in court and also to all the people who kindly submitted references for her. We would also like to thank the court Usher for being so helpful and for bringing extra seating into court.

 

May 2005

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First publish by the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases

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