- Created: Friday, 25 September 2009 14:27
- Written by Heather Keating
FRFI 177 February / March 2004
As the rain poured down on 8 January, supporters of the Marks & Spencer picket gathered outside Manchester City Magistrates’ Court to support two regular picketers who were facing charges that attacked our right to protest outside the shop. Slogans calling for the defence of democratic rights and cries of ‘Defend the right to protest!’ rang around the court complex as we handed out leaflets and explained what was going on in court.
The case was brought against the picket after constant harassment from the Labour council and its licensing officers. One of the picketers was charged with affixing placards to council property and both were charged with depositing a paste-table on the highway ‘without lawful authority or excuse to the interruption of pedestrians’. Our solicitor, David Lees, was told on entering court that one of the magistrates was a shareholder in M&S. On our objection he was removed from the bench. The case opened with both solicitors giving definitions of ‘affixed’, which isn’t defined in the Highways Act. Prosecution witness Andrew Butcher, Senior Licensing Officer, testified that the placards were ‘draped’ on the railings, with the clear implication that they were not ‘fixed’.
On the obstruction charge, Lees argued that for the defendants to be found guilty, the magistrates would have to find that the table was an unreasonable interruption. Butcher was asked if any member of the public had ever complained. He testified that they hadn’t. Lees then asked Butcher if M&S had ever complained to the council about the table: Butcher confirmed they had. But when Lees asked if M&S’s complaint had been passed on to him, the prosecution objected, and the chief magistrate ruled that the question was not relevant so that Butcher did not have to answer. Lees then explained that he was trying to find out exactly to whom the table was an interruption. The question was still ruled irrelevant. The prosecution argued that a table was not needed for the picket because we could carry all our leaflets. They also suggested that we could all wear placards instead of ‘affixing them to council property’.
One of the two defendants described the reasons for the M&S picket saying it was in solidarity with Palestine and that the people on the picket were asking the public to boycott Israeli goods, boycott M&S and to isolate the Zionist state. The chief magistrate was shaking his head throughout and thereby betrayed his sympathy for Zionism.
We were found guilty on all counts. There was some obscure nonsense about ‘saddles’ in deciding that placards draped on council railings were indeed ‘affixed’ in the eyes of the law; the chief magistrate also ridiculously asserted that the placards prevented people from leaning on the railings.
The verdict is an attack not only on our democratic right to protest against M&S’s support for the Israeli state but the rights of any campaigning group in Manchester to protest on the streets. We have lodged an appeal to the Crown Court and are forming a ‘Defend the M&S Picket Campaign’ to fight for our democratic rights.
Support the campaign if you are in the Manchester area by coming to the weekly picket of M&S. Every Saturday at 12 noon, Market Street, City Centre.
We need financial help to fight the charges. Cheques payable to, ‘Defend the M&S Picket Campaign’. Send to PO Box 20, Bridge 5 Mill, 22A Beswick Street, Manchester, M4 7HR