Protesters found not guilty of ABH and public disorder after CCTV footage emerges of police officers punching, kneeing and choking <i>them</i>.
Police officers enter at 0:31.
Last Thursday, two protesters were found not guilty of violent disorder and actual bodily harm against police officers, which they were accused of committing during a Cardiff Uncut protest at a bank on the 2nd of May last year. As a result of the acquittal, the CCTV footage of the event can now be released, and it tells a remarkably different story to what was presented as evidence against the two men.
The video shows police charging into the protesters, punching, kneeing, choking and hurling members of the group around the room. One defendant, 26-year-old Josh Longbottom, is held in a chokehold. In the scuffle the second defendant, Pete Simpson, aged 30, approaches his friend Josh before being picked up by the throat and slammed into the ground.
The protest was an occupation of an HSBC branch on Queen Street in Cardiff to draw attention to the bank facilitating tax avoidance for its wealthy clients and, more generally, according to Simpson, "about the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, while banks have absolutely no accountability".
Helen Jones, 24, was there that day. She said: "A group broke off from the march and carried out a peaceful occupation of the bank, chanting and waving signs. That was until the police jumped in and acted in a totally disproportionate fashion. We were all left shocked and worried for Josh and Pete's safety."
All of this is in contradiction to how officers described the event, which they said had made them afraid for their lives. The police made unsubstantiated accusations about the two defendants, saying they had sworn and behaved violently towards members of the force. They even went as far as to claim one of the officers sustained an injury to his hand, a claim that was thrown out early in the trial.
Eventually Judge Michael Fitton QC found that the evidence could not sustain any of the allegations. The strength of the video was such that one barrister, in their closing statement, asked: "Where would we be without CCTV footage?" – perhaps evidence of a rare silver lining to the unparalleled reach of the UK's surveillance systems.
Simpson said: "I think the police officers lost their mind that day. If anyone could be accused of violent disorder it's them. I would complain to the IPCC but I don't have any faith in an organisation full of ex-police officers."
He went on to say: "What's most frustrating is that we were protesting against tax avoidance at a time when schools and hospitals desperately need money, and the state has just spent hundreds of thousands of pounds trying to prosecute us for something that would have been instantly disregarded if the people in charge had watched the CCTV footage."
Raj Chada, a criminal defence partner at Hodge Jones & Allen, who represented Simpson, said: "We were very surprised that the trial continued when the Crown Prosecution Service had the CCTV footage, which was completely inconsistent with the officers' statements."
As a result of the charges both defendants have spent eight months on electric tag under curfew and have been prevented from spending time in their hometown of Cardiff. Peter Simpson was unable to attend a funeral during this period and was prohibited from seeing his sick grandmother without permission.
Chada described the bail conditions as "outrageous". He said: "Bail conditions are supposed to be used to address specific concerns. My client was arrested at a protest – what does imposing a curfew on him achieve? These were unnecessary, punitive measures."
Jones, Simpson and Chada all feel that what has taken place is an example of a growing intolerance of public protest. Chada said: "More and more we're seeing protests being hyped up and events exaggerated, which is contributing to a culture that punishes dissent."
More worrying, still, Jones told VICE that some of those involved in the demonstration claim to have been followed by plainclothes officers after the events (South Wales Police did not reply to a request for comment). She said: "All of this is a way to reduce people's confidence in exercising their democratic right to protest in a very underhanded way."
Thankfully, neither Jones nor Simpson have been put off by the police's behaviour. Simpson said: "I've thought a lot about changing the direction of my life, but I am strong believer in campaigning for social justice and I won't stop now."
Still, not everyone has their resolve. As Jones pointed out: "You can see how if that was someone's first demo they could be put off coming back."
South Wales Police stated that they do not comment on the outcome of trials.
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