Nottingham Atos 2 charges dropped: more of this sort of thing!

Photo: courtesy Alan Lodge

Photo: courtesy Alan Lodgenottingham_atos1

In September 2011, two Nottingham residents, a retired paediatric nurse and a wheelchair user, were arrested following a peaceful protest at the local offices of Atos Healthcare. The Atos Two were subsequently charged with aggravated trespass for having ‘obstructed’ a ‘lawful business’ and ‘intimidated’ staff – although Atos employees struggled to explain how they had been intimidated by the protesters without having to admit that they found disabled people intimidating per se.

Faced with an impressive solidarity campaign and having a pathetically weak case, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and Atos backed down in January and the charges were dropped. It is unknown whether this change of mind was due to Atos’ concerns of further bad publicity or whether coppers and/or CPS advised the complainant to back off before their case came to court as it was likely that it would fall apart.

In any case it is without question that the remarkable acts of solidarity by hundreds of people did make a significant impact. The public pressure mounting up even before the trial had started would have made an impression, demonstrating the importance of such practical acts of solidarity and the potential of mutual aid and support.

However, this case of political policing to intimidate protesters and deter further acts of direct action is not an isolated one. Nationally there have not only been many assaults on and harassment of protesters, but also numerous convictions of people involved for instance in student demonstrations and anti-cuts actions.

Charges of aggravated trespass are frequently utilised to deter people from engaging in acts of protest and civil disobedience. The offence was introduced in the 1990s in response to the success of hunt saboteurs and road protesters. Recent examples of such prosecutions include cases against activists that went into Fortnum & Mason and Panton House last March.

Recent arrests and charges, along with other attempts of harassment and intimidation (e.g. confiscating tapes from a photography student who had filmed an arrest) indicate a hardening of Nottingham police policy. Just before Christmas three arbitrary arrests were made in relation to a Notts Uncut protest. Aside from coppers manhandling one arrestee these events were particularly disturbing as the third arrest took place while supporters waited for the first two to be released. The new approach was summed up by one copper’s comment who said with regards to the Atos Two that ‘There has been too much of this sort of thing going on and we've been told to crack down on it.’

Atos remains however one of the many examples of why we need much more of ‘this sort of thing’. The company, administering the Work Capability Assessments (WCA) for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), has been the subject of frequent national protests. Whether under Labour or ConDem governments, the DWP has for years increased the pressure on the ‘idle’ poor. Although the practise of feeding state-provided alms to a very few ‘deserving’ poor is still deemed useful to maintain the guise that capitalist regimes can be progressive and caring systems of social relations, various Welfare Reform Bills aimed to reduce the numbers of those deemed to be truly ‘deserving’ poor.

The WCA is a prime example. Its core element is a computerised phoney ‘medical’ assessment, undertaken by Atos healthcare professionals. Being paid £100m a year, Atos is happy to do its very best to implement the government’s attack on disabled people. It is no surprise that the company quickly became infamous for its atrocious conduct towards claimants, driven by a fierce determination to force as many people as possible off disability benefits – regardless of their physical and/or psychological abilities. Atos has helped the government to worsen the living conditions of thousands of people. Many have been denied vital benefits and forced into a job market offering no jobs, which leads to further harassment by Job Centre Plus and assorted poverty pimps like A4E, Working Links, etc. A number of people are known to have died as a direct or indirect consequence of being ground through the WCA. It is just one example of the blatant injustices all around us, produced by a system in which exploitation and recurring crisis are not exceptions, but are inherent to the system itself.

In resisting the attacks on all of us, be it by the copper on the street, policy makers or that smiling bastard about to scrap your entitlement to a crucial benefit, we must organise and work together. When we don’t allow them to intimidate us and remain firm in solidarity for each other we can not only fight back efficiently, but also protect one another from the fallout of repression.

Nottingham Defence Campaign

The campaign is organising a demonstration on Friday 3 February: Against Atos ‘Healthcare’ and police repression. Assemble 12.30pm at the junction of Carlton Street and Heathcote Street, Hockley (outside Ice Nine). FRFI urges any Nottingham reader to join the protest.

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