Before the credit crunch, the last run on a UK bank was in 1878. The directors of the Bank of Glasgow were jailed. Likewise many of those responsible for the 1929 Wall Street Crash were sent down.
Not so today. After the banking collapse of 2007/8, not a single financier has been found guilty of a crime. We are expected to believe that in the cocaine fuelled corridors of the city, not one of the choices which wiped the savings of millions was fraudulent: that everything done by these masters of the universe was cock up.
The same cannot be said for those who complain. Today, along with nine others, I was found guilty of ‘entering Fortnum & Mason and demonstrating’. I was given a conditional discharge for six months and ordered to pay £1000 of the prosecution’s legal costs. Over the last year, many of my friends have been fined, jailed, or beaten to a pulp by the police for such crimes as hanging banners from bridges, or having the audacity to be a journalist reporting on a protest.
In whose interest does the Crown Prosecution Service decide how to allocate its time and resources? In whose interest do the police police? To use the language in vogue: is it the 99%, or the 1%? How many hours have they spent over the last year or so trawling through footage in an attempt to prove that this peaceful protester breached that controversial law? Or that that peaceful protester may have crossed the fuzzy line around this equally contentious piece of legislation?
I maintain I committed no crime. But even if you wholly accept the case that the CPS presented- after days spent trawling through CCTV footage in an attempt to prove something more – all I did was go into a shop and facilitate a meeting. How does this compare with recklessly endangering the livelihoods and lives of millions? How does that compare with defrauding millions in order to make yourself billions? If the police have the time to intimidate protesters entering the city, why didn’t they have time ensure those who work there don’t commit fraud or embezzlement?
In our Fortnum and Mason case we have the benefit outstanding, passionate and hard working lawyers. They have fought for us every inch of the way, and will fight with us all the way to the High Court. Once there, we hope to win. But we should be clear. Even if we are successful there, we will have been found not guilty by the same legal system which imprisons our friends, which criminalises protesters, and attempts to humiliate those who stand up to power; the same legal system which has done nothing whatsoever to bring to justice those responsible for our economic collapse.
Even the crime for which we were on trial – aggravated trespass – was invented in 1994 with the intention of criminalising protest. The nature of the charge meant that there was no jury – just a lone judge. We might chant that the streets are ours, but the courthouse clearly is not. And whatever ruling it comes to, it is not where our battles will be won. So, we will see you on the picket lines and on the streets.
#233: Democracy on the Wing ● Thelma Walker on regional autonomy ● An interview with Clive Lewis ● The World Transformed ● Gender, sexuality and witchcraft ● The globalisation of ‘Asian horror’ ● A tribute to Dawn Foster ● Latest book reviews ● And much more!
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