On the 15th/16th November 2016, three members of the former Upton Community Protection Camp faced trial at Wirral Magistrates Court for an incident that occourred in October 2015 when a private security firm arrived unannounced at the camp and tried to force entry onto the site to post change of ownership notices, detailing that Igas had taken over the leass of the land and requested the camp to leave. This was the first step towards the resulting eviction case.
This case was originally set for Chester Magistrates Court at the end of March, 2016 , when the prosecution had messed up their evidence, even as far as mis-identifying one of the defendants. The case against Max, Phil and Simon was then adjourned until the 15th and 16th of November, to take place at Wirral magistrates court. All three released on unconditional bail in the meantime.
The bulk of the case concerned this incident which was recorded by someone from the camp at the time (though the evidence submitted was taken from police and security body cams of the incident) where two members were accused of assaulting the security man by throwing him off the gate he was trying to climb over. A further charge of assault resulted from access being blocked via a makeshift bridge across the ditch between the camp and Duttons Lane.
NOT GUILTY was the result at Birkenhead Magistrates’ Court, where all three of the Upton protectors involved in the incidents were finally vindicated. After meticulously examining the crucial video footage of alleged assaults/ accidental bargings, as it was relentlessly played and replayed, District Judge Michael Abelson ruled in favour of the camp residents, seemingly largely on the grounds that they genuinely believed they had the right to protect their home against any intruders.
Witness statements given in court from the security firm said that they had been instructed by the landowners (a company) to post notices around and inside the camp, they had liaised with local police the day beforehand to ask them to attend to stop any breach of the peace from occourring. PC Benjamin Jones of Cheshire constabulary attended, and confirmed that was the reason for their presence on the site, they were not there to facilitate the posting of the notices. In total there were 2 police officers and three PCSOs at the site.
The police at the site on the day had no or very little contact with the camp previously, and little knowledge of the circumstances, only one officer it seems had been near the camp previously, and this simply to drive past on the lane to check that there were no visitors vehicles parked on the bend of the lane, so that the bend was clear and safe.
There was no physical contact between the campers and the security firm until the incident filmed above at the gate at the far end of the camp. There had been a stand off when the security arrived at the main gate, this was not physical, video evidence showed camp residents standing in front of the main entrance repeatedly saying that the camp had a section 6 coverage and that the security firm was not allowed access.
The judge heard that the defendants had lived on the camp for well over a year without any incident, the defendants were questioned and found to have deep rooted belief in their reason to be on the site, that of ecological protection, they were genuine in their purpose and were not ‘hangers on’ who were there just for aggravation.
The camp had been in existence for well over a year at this point, and evidence was given that there had previously been NO incidents at the camp, it was well established with a peaceful and family atmosphere, and had maintained good relations with both local police and local residents and had much support from the surrounding community.
The court heard that regarding police contact, the camp had received regular (weekly) welfare visits from the local police, which were always friendly, the bell on the main entrance was rung and a friendly chat was the normal procedure at the gate accompanied by cups of tea or coffee and biscuits, there were never any complaints about the camp, this was to see if anything needed help to maintain the peaceful atmosphere. It was also stated to indicate the friendly nature of the interactions that when the regular officer left the force, he came back to let them know he had left and to talk about his new career.
On the morning of the incidents, one of the campers had returned from taking her children to school to find men in paramilitary style uniforms attempting to get on the site. The three accused were woken up by the commotion and shouting outside, which was completely out of the blue and were forced straight into a chaotic situation which they did not have time to assess. Their actions previous to the gate incident were simply to stand in the entrances and repeat that the security firm were denied access onto the land. The police in attendance on the day had no knowledge of the camp, or who owned the land, or of any rights or agreements for the camp to be there. The campers on the other hand, had maintained a lengthy good relationship with the police and had no reason to think that those there on the day had no knowledge about them. It was determined that thoughout this incident, the campers did little more than exert their right to protect their home. Even in the alleged assaults, there was no punching or kicking or actual threats of violence, the actions were simply to defend the borders of their home from unwelcome intruders.
The judge put it to the defendants that the intruders were simply there to post notices, if they had been allowed on site they would have done this, and left without further ado.
The defendants answered that they had no prior knowledge of this and did not know the full intentions of the security firm, they did not properly identify themselves or their purpose. They felt threatened and intimidated that once the security got onsite, there could well have been more back-ups in the vicinity who could then have stormed the site, which their home, their only place of residence.
When asked why they didn’t check with the landowner (the farmer) about what was happening, again, everything was spur of the moment, the farmer lived a few hundred metres away but there was no time to contact him, nor did anyone feel safe to leave the site and request his attendance, as they had no idea what the full intentions of the security was.
It was also stated several times that a previous protocol had been established where the security firm could have simply rung the bell on the main entrance and handed to notices over (this is what had happened at previous camps and what happened when the eviction notices were finally served). Also the police had been informed the day before, and they could have liaised with the camp to smooth this over, instead of being forced into an unexpected confrontation. The security men in question were also ex marines, so as well as being trained in being forceful, the judge also said that they should be trained in how to avoid conflict situations like this, if it had been handled differently from the outset, none of these incidents would have occourred.
On behalf of the camp and the local community, we would like to give many thanks to Robert Lizar solicitors for their legal guidance.
The continuing presence of the local community almost a year after the camp was evicted, supporting them at the court cases, which are now almost over is very much appreciated and testament to the nature of the campaign.
There now only remains one more case to be heard, from the day of the eviction itself, Issy stands trial for resisting a high court bailiff (ie she was removed from the site rather than leaving when requested) this will again take place at Wirral Magistrates Court on 15th February 2017 as she was too ill following the birth of her child to attend court with the other defendants in October, so had her case adjourned. Again, public support for this last trial would be very much appreciated.
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