The Flame Burns Brighter
On 24th September 2011 about thirty parents and children gathered outside Buckingham Palace to tie photos and ribbons to the railings in a peaceful protest to mark that summers riots. We argued that a major (and often denied) contributory factor to the riots was mass fatherlessness. The event had been agreed and planned with the Police in advance, however on arrival the police attempted to move us. An anti-democracy group called Republic regularly protest with impunity at the Palace, yet we were met with a wall of hostility and aggression.
On the day of our trial (Friday 18th May), the Police facilitated a protest at Buckingham Palace led by Peter Tatchell and there were no arrests. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18124456
So lets compare how F4J are treated compared to other protest groups.
4 people (out of 30) were charged with ‘unlawful assembly’ in the Royal Parks.
I had never been arrested for this offence.
I had never interviewed for this offence.
I had never been summonsed correctly.
It has taken 8 months, 4 hearings and numerous Police visits from Met officers all over the county, all for a charge of ‘unlawful assembly’. The maximum sentence is a fine of £200.
On any reasonable assessment, this was a grotesque and unnecessary waste of taxpayers money.
In fact the Police had failed to serve ANY of the defendants correctly. Despite being given my home address at the protest, two police officers chose instead to visit my ice cream parlour in Covent Garden (for the second time) to intimidate my staff, ask for my whereabouts and try and serve the summons on me. I regarded this as an act of intimidation and harassment.
We have been disadvantaged from the outset.
Where possible we avoid solicitors like the Ebola virus. We were unrepresented to begin with apart from the heroic efforts of Nadine O’Connor who was our McKenzie friend and who caused them problems from the off. But when it became clear these were show trials against select individuals who they were trying to impose draconian Olympic-sized restrictions on, legal assistance wasn’t an option, it was a necessity.
However, we were unable to secure legal aid because unless you are a black, blind, cross-dressing, Somalian amputee seeking political asylum then you have as much chance of getting legal aid as a Italian Cruise line captain does steering the Queen up the Thames in a couple of weeks.
Despite agreeing with the CPS which witnesses would be called, they decided not to call our witnesses and then said they would charge us for the privilege.
Our ‘star’ witness (who had been agreed with the CPS before they withdrew her) was a six-foot tall blonde Gold Commander called Lucy D’Orsi ( http://www.lbhf.gov.uk/Directory/News/New_Borough_Commander_Lucy_D_Orsi.asp).
The day before the event I had met Lucy at the Savoy Hotel and, over a cup of Earl Grey tea, agreed the event with her. Interestingly, Lucy was wearing a uniform consisting of one cocktail dress, fishnet stockings and killer heels – at 11.00am in the morning (see my statement below).
Further, there had been no proper case management hearing and – conveniently enough – no records from the earlier hearings. They had attempted to serve one defendant on 3 different (and incorrect) addresses and he wasn’t in court because he hadn’t been served. Another defendant had the charges dropped because of ‘lack of evidence’ despite the fact all four of us were plastered all over Facebook for the same offence.
That left me and another defendant still in the dock.
As it turned out the other defendant had to leave court after lunch to pick up his children because a court order told him he had to be there.
So that left me. Maybe it was paranoia. Or maybe I was mistaken, but I began to feel that somebody had something against me. To paraphrase Kenneth Williams, ‘Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it infamy!’
The prosecutor moved the goalposts more times than a family court lawyer. First of all he said we didn’t have any agreement to be there. Then he said we did have permission to be there. Then he said we needed the permission of the Secretary of State. If so then, what was the point of even meeting the Police?
Our defence was clear. We met and agreed the event with the police. It was the police that deviated from the agreement by trying to move people on arrival from the position agreed at the North West gates of Buckingham Palace to a site across the Mall. This created the resulting impasse. Other groups (see above) protest with impunity at this exact same location. Why were we being singled out?
Why were the CPS cherry picking witnesses and who they prosecuted? I call that selective justice. A process that picks off individuals not on the basis of what they have done, but on who they are.
That isn’t justice, that’s a kangaroo court. A sham. A show trial where the outcome is predetermined pending being rubber stamped. One paper said I didn’t need to be there.
But I had to be there to defend my rights.
My right to be a father.
My right to freedom of assembly.
My right to a fair trial.
My right to go to work without fear of arrest.
Sitting there, on my own minus my three co-defendants, I told the judge I wasn’t going to participate in this sham any longer because without those rights, my country is no different to China, Iran or North Korea. My last words were this, ‘until such time as the law recognises me as a father, then I refuse to recognise the law.’
Apparently on my departure, the senior officer in the case DS Matthew Hearing Matthew.A.Hearing@met.police.uk tried to have me prosecuted for contempt. He was quite angry that I had been allowed to leave. All for £200 and a protest the Met had agreed to. This is the same officer who banned me from going to my place of work during the State Opening of Parliament and is trying to impose Olympic restrictions on me.
Congratulations Mr Hearing. You make a fantastic PR man having secured us press in 3 national newspapers and an interview in Time Magazine this week. What a sensible use of the £1.6 billion security budget for London 2012 to devote so many resources to pursuing a businessman who employs over 20 people in central London when there are legitimate threats to our nation’s national security.
We ‘export’ democracy and justice to other countries by force and yet we surpress it at home. If we were protestors in Syria or Egypt, we would be celebrated as supporters of the Arab Spring. In this country we are treated like vermin.
And how can we be expected to respect the law when the law treats us with utter contempt? Not just in open court, but in secret hearings, with control orders that determine when, where, how we see our children. That threaten, bully, harass parents whose only crime is to demand equality and the right to see their children.
That isn’t a revolutionary demand – it’s the most basic human right of all. The right to be a parent.
And I’ll never stop defending that right, whatever the cost.
Because with every act of oppression, the flame for the fatherless burns that bit brighter.
MATT O’CONNOR’S STATEMENT
- Prior to the rest of this statement, I wish to convey to the court my following position. Until the law recognises me as a father, I refuse to recognise the law.
- Prior to the demonstration on 24th September 2011 we had advertised an entirely peaceful, family protest at Buckingham Palace which followed my 8-day hunger strike outside the Prime Minister’s Oxfordshire home in July 2011. This event was sensitively handled by Thames Valley police and passed without incident. I expressed my gratitude to them for this afterwards.
- The protest at Buckingham Palace involved us tying purple (the international colour of equality) ribbons and pictures of our children to the railings of Buckingham Palace, as we had tied them to a tree outside the Prime Ministers house a few months earlier.
- The event was promoted on Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150413204343804&set=a.408005408803.200433.404775273803&type=1&theater
- I was subsequently contacted and agreed to meet Kevin West from Operational Planning at the Met on Friday 9th September. Instead of meeting me at the agreed location, he went to an ice cream parlour where I have a business interest in Covent Garden and notified my staff who he was and that he was looking for me. I regard this as part of a continuing course of conduct where the Met harass me and my staff in premises which are entirely unrelated to these matter. As a result of this behaviour, I refused to deal with Operational Planning.
- I was then contacted by Chief Superintendent Lucy D’Orsi who I agreed to meet at 11.00am on Friday 23rd September in the Thames Foyer at the Savoy Hotel. She sent me a link to her picture so I would recognise her. I sent her a picture from Shrek the Musical so she would recognise me.
- In my email to her discussing any meeting I said “For the record we expect the Police to be straight with us. This has not happened on recent events. The level of deceit – because that’s what it is – is not only stupid, but antagonistic.” It was a theme that was set to continue.
- On the morning whilst I was seated at my table waiting, I was approached by a very glamorous woman in a cocktail dress, black high heels and fishnet stockings. It took me a few seconds before I realised it was Lucy D’Orsi who was with a Sergeant Damian Southall.
- The Chief Superintendent was so glamorous that our black waiter, Randy, made some remarks (about her appearance after she left.)
- I treated them to Earl Grey tea and we discussed the following days event.
- They were very keen to dissuade Fathers4Justice from gathering at Buckingham Palace.
- She told me she would be ‘Gold Commander’ on the day.
- I said our numbers would be relatively small, and the event would pass within a couple of hours. I cited our previous event at the Prime Ministers house as an example of how smoothly these events can go if there is a spirit of cooperation.
- I said the precedent for gathering for a peaceful protest at the Palace had been set when the Met allowed the anti-monarchy group ‘Republic’ to protest at the Palace on the 25th June 2011, just months before our protest. See here: http://www.demotix.com/news/735079/anti-monarchy-group-republic-protests-buckingham-palace
- I restated the fact that the actions of the Met had been unhelpful and provocative, and delayed discussions to the point we were now debating the event with less that 24 hours to go.
- She said she would take these ‘learnings back’ with her which I took as a euphemism for ‘I can’t be bothered’.
- I also said that we had spoken to the Republic protest group and they had no conditions placed on them. We asked why we were being treated differently to which there was no answer.
- We agreed that we would be allowed to gather at the gates for between 30-60mins as people would take time to arrive, however there was a discussion about how long we would be allowed to remain there. I said we expected the same conditions as per the Republic group and the conversation ended.
- On the day, we began our assembly as agreed with Chief Superintendent Lucy D’Orsi. However, right from the start, the police were hostile, anxious and unnecessarily aggressive.
- As soon as we arrived Sergeant Damian Southall attempted to move us from the agreed location.
- On several occasions they asked us to move and I said this was in breach of our agreement.
- I asked to speak to Chief Superintendent Lucy D’Orsi ref this clear breach of our agreements but was denied the opportunity to do so.
- It was clear that the Met were not going to adhere to the arrangements made the previous day.
- He also attempted to get Fathers4Justice supporters to put down placards they were holding and refused to allow people to tie pictures of their children to the railings.
- The net effect of the actions of the Met were to antagonise and upset the children and parents present. Instead of a quiet, peaceful protest the atmosphere was stressed and difficult and supporters then refused to move from the location as the police and broken the terms that had been agreed.
- At one stage, there appeared to be over 100 police officers in attendance for what was a very small group of children and parents.
- They then ‘kettled’ the supporters in, denying them the right to leave, and spent at least an hour photographing and interviewing those present.
- Several protestors symbolically handcuffed themselves to the railings using easily removable handcuffs that were not locked. The police were able to remove these in seconds. These handcuffs had been brought as a symbolic gesture to be worn to show the ‘chains preventing fathers from seeing their children.’ See our Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/Fathers4Justice
- Nobody was arrested on the day and nobody was charged. I understand that with the exception of a few people, nobody was prosecuted over this apart from one person who was arrested on the day, cautioned, taken to the police station, interviewed, charged and has since appeared in Court and was fined £100 plus £75 costs and £15 admin fee for climbing upon the gates at Buck Palace
- The first time we became aware that we were to be prosecuted was 110 days after the offence.
- Police Officers AGAIN attended a business I have an interest in to try and serve a summons on me on Thursday 26th January. This is not my postal address or in fact any address for me – it is an ice cream parlour. The Police had my wife’s details so it should not have been beyond the combined intelligence of the Met to have joined the dots and realised that I in fact shared the same address as my wife.
- I understand this is a summary charge and I was denied the opportunity to deal with this manner by way of a fixed penalty notice.
- I have not been interviewed, nor arrested, nor cautioned over this charge.
- I consider this prosecution to be a vindictive charade and waste of taxpayers money.
- It is no surprise that at the 11th hour that the CPS have withdrawn key statements from the people who organised and agreed the event.
- Finally, without people prepared to stand up against the intimidation and bullying of the Met Police and others, the government would not be considering increasing parental rights for fathers at the moment. I remain committed to peacefully changing the law in this country by all reasonable, peaceful means necessary.