Yesterday a two hour hearing of the civil injunction, lodged by the ODA against peaceful protestors engaged in blocking construction vehicles on Leyton Marsh, took place at the High Courts of Justice.
This was a subsequent hearing of the initial injunction on 4th April granted to the ODA for a two week duration.
Five defendants were summoned before the court; Simon Moore, Anita Olivacce, Connor Murray, Daniel Ashman and Rowena Johnson. Simon, Anita, Connor and Daniel had already appeared before court charged under section 14 of the Public Order Act. Connor pleaded not guilty and will be tried on 1st June. Simon, Anita and Daniel pleaded guilty, were subsequently fined £640 which they were unable and unwilling to pay and hence were incarcerated for 5 days.
Rowena Johnson, a local resident who was unaware of the injunction until her summons, was included as a defendant solely on the evidence provided by the Evening Standard. One of the ODA’s solicitors was recognised by many of the group as he had claimed to be an ES journalist when appearing at the marshes. A complaint has now been made to the Law Society regarding his conduct by one member of the group to whom he made such a claim.
The judge heard first the arguments put by the ODA for their case; this included a description of the obstruction of lorries that occurred on 10th April. None of the defendants challenged the fact they had engaged in obstruction of lorries since their aim was to challenge the construction using peaceful direct action. However, a local resident who appeared as a Macenzie friend on behalf of Daniel Ashman did challenge the ‘partial’ witness accounts of the ODA’s Mark Sorrell whose descriptions of incitement were described as ‘vague’ and ‘unsubstantiated’. The judge pointed out that any criminal incidents should be pursued as criminal matters and did not relate to the defendants and the civil injunction being heard.
In addition to using the Evening Standard article as fact, an undertaking critiqued by Daniel Ashman during his defence, the ODA employed as exhibits screen captures of various social media pages as evidence of ‘incitement’, including an anonymous comment posted on indymedia and the Occupy Twitter account. The judge asked for clarification from the ODA as to whether any such proposed ‘shut down of the site’ had taken place on the day in question. The ODA confirmed there had been none and indeed the defence pointed out that no such idea had appeared on our official website and where it had appeared elsewhere, it had been disclaimed by our Save Leyton Marsh Group.
In an Orwellian twist, the ODA claimed that the injunction was necessary “to ensure the health and safety of their workers” and that there was a ‘serious’ and ‘imminent risk’ to workers on site from the protestors. All the defendants, as well as local resident Katy Andrews, pointed out to the judge that the serious risk was in fact posed by the construction itself. As part of Simon’s defence, a document of chronology was handed to the judge. This included key sections from the ground investigation report carried out on behalf of Nussli in January which stated that “ground workers should be made aware of the presence of lead and the potential presence of asbestos containing materials in the made ground” and “the relevant levels of personal protective equipment” would be required . In our numerous discussions with workers and dog-handlers, our group has never spoken to one who was aware of the risks or was wearing suitable protective clothing.
In further Orwellian fashion, the ODA went on to claim that presence of protestors constituted “interference to the use and enjoyment of the land”, neglecting of course to mention that their unwanted construction has confiscated 70% of Porter’s Field Meadow for a huge 3 storey 11m high structure. The protestors were described as being a ‘nuisance and obstruction’ to the local people who have supported the camp from the beginning!
Simon and Anita defended their actions on the basis of the context in which they had been undertaken. They both referred to the lack of consultation and due democratic process that had led to the decision to use our beautiful marsh as a site for considerable and ‘destructive’ development. Anita pointed out that thousands of Londoners walked the marsh and that hundreds of local residents directly opposite suffered the loss of Leyton Marsh even more since they did not have their own gardens. Simon told the judge: “It is priceless. It serves an essential human need that no building could.” They both clearly outlined the serious failings of the authorities involved, including failing to engage with locals’ concerns and resorting to expensive legal ‘remedy’ with tax payers’ money. They explained their (we must say passionate and admirable) motivation to support local people in their struggle to protect their open green space for all.
Judge Arnold’s summing up acknowledged the frustrated attempts to engage with the authorities through normal channels and listed the failings of the authorities that were described during the hearing which included concerns about ‘permission’, ‘undemocratic process’, ‘various environmental considerations’, ‘environmental matters of public concern’, ‘development of MOL’ and a number of other ‘legitimate’ matters of concern. Hopefully this list of valid concerns will appear in the decision when it’s published.
The judge also acknowledged that we felt “handicapped by a lack of resources and the financial ability to obtain legal representation” since our claim for legal aid was rejected as not constituting a ‘priority’. However, most of his summing up was reading from a pre-written document and he found the ODA’s property rights under article 1 of the First Protocol meant that the protestors human rights should be ‘waived’. Not all that surprising for a judge who presides over Intellectual Property cases!