Today a grand total of five cyclists were found guilty of cycling “north of the river Thames”. SchNEWS readers will no doubt remember Metropolitan Police's authoritarian sideshow to the Olympic opening ceremony in July 2012, where 182 people on or near the monthly Critical Mass bike ride were kettled, and arrested and denied basic human rights.
Seven months later, and just nine of those arrested that night were actually taken to court. The trial began on the 25th of February, and was originally scheduled for 5 days. However, due to the prosecution bringing in unscheduled witnesses half way through, the trial was extended.
The most interesting evidence to emerge during the case was that of Chief Inspector Sonia Davis, head of the "not the F.I.T team,honest guv" Metropolitan Police Police Liaison Officer (PLO) unit, as she was called as a prosecution witness.
She informed the court that plain clothed PLOs had been at previous Masses to “identify organisers” (despite Critical Mass having no organisers) and that “at least” eight plain clothed PLO were present on the night itself. Exactly how Police Liason Officers are supposed to liaise with a crowd that can't identify them is just one of the many perplexing questions that the case has left unanswered. In September Chief Insp. Davis trawled through photographs of those arrested to identify who she had spoken to on the night. Those who had “engaged” with PLOs were at a greater risk of prosecution and conviction than those who had not. For protesters this is probably the single most important fact to come out of the trial: If you talk to police liaison officers you stand a higher chance of being prosecuted and convicted than if you do not.
PLOs have stated publicly that their job is not to collect intelligence, yet they admitted to attending previous Critical Masses to gather 'information'- obviously a totally different thing altogether. The Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) have an analysis of Insp. Davis' testimony and the role of Police Liaison Officers here.
The case boiled down to the old chestnut of whether or not the defendants were aware of the police conditions imposed on the march.To inform over 500 cyclists not to go north of the Thames the cops took along their usual crap megaphone and some PLOds were handing out leaflets with the S12 conditions on. Being arrested with these conditions on them was one reason some of the cyclists were prosecuted. ScHint: never take anything from a pig.
The trial continued in the wearily familiar way: complete with police collaboration, contamination of prosecution evidence, long delays and “missing” police officers. During the trial, two defendants were acquitted because their knowledge of Section 12 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act could not be proven and one had his charges dropped. By the end the critical few had just got fewer.
When the prosecution had no more lies left up their sleeves, the judge decided to drop another defendant’s charges. The judge came back the next day to inform the six that five of them were guilty and were being sentenced to conditional discharges and costs. They are likely to appeal the verdict. For the 97% of those arrested that night who were found not to commit any offence, the end of this trial means civil actions and litigation against the Met can begin.