LIVESTREAMER ACQUITTED AFTER BEING DENIED ACCESS TO “FESTIVAL OF DEMOCRACY”

  • Police used powers relating to rave festivals in attempt to shut down “Festival of Democracy” during Magna Carta 800th anniversary celebrations
  • Livestreamer acquitted after case against him collapses
  • Prosecutor expressed dismay that case had even come to trial

The trial of citizen journalist Ben Kidd, who was arrested while livestreaming [1] from Runnymede eco-village’s “Festival of Democracy”, collapsed in Staines Magistrates court on Monday 24th August.

http://embed.bambuser.com/broadcast/5586063

On Friday 12th June, the police had drafted officers in from seven different forces around southern England.

The police claimed that the festival, which included workshops and speakers on a range of pro-democracy topics, was, in fact an ‘illegal rave’. Festival organisers believe the move was designed to prevent residents of the eco-village hosting an alternative celebration of the 800th sealing of the Magna Carta

The festival had been organised by Diggers2012 and Occupy Democracy.

Runnymede eco-village is situated 500 metres from where the Queen and Prime Minister Dave Cameron were taking part in the official celebrations.

Police enforced Section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act (1994) to prevent people from attending the festival [2]. This piece of legislation explicitly defines illegal activity and powers in relation to music “characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats”.

At the time, Surrey Police force said:

“The force will not tolerate unregulated, unlicensed events… officers will direct people preparing, gathering or waiting for the rave to leave the land. In addition the act gives police powers to seize property in relation to an event.”

This gave the police an excuse to routinely deny members of the public access to a series of discussions and talks relating to democracy and the contemporary relevance of the Magna Carta. Speakers included OpenDemocracy founder Anthony Barnett and Guy Standing a professor at SOAS and the author of A Precariat Charter.

Kidd was stopped by police after approaching the village and given a dispersal order, stating that he must travel 5 miles from the site. He was later arrested while livestreaming after police accused him of ignoring the order.

In court the prosecutor began by expressing his dismay that the case had even come to court. Kidd was acquitted when the magistrate accepted that police had not given the dispersal order correctly.

Former Liberal Democrat deputy chair Donnachadh McCarthy, a supporter of Occupy Democracy wrote in The Ecologist at the time of the Festival [3]:

“Surrey Police chiefs disgracefully abused their powers and declared the democracy festival to be a “rave”, a claim faithfully relayed by the BBC along with police claims that they were “committed to ensuring the safety of the public”, acting only “to prevent any disturbance, disruption or distress to the local community”, and concerned about”increased crime”.

He continued:

“Both those arbitrary arrests, and the threatened seizure of the property of those attending the Festival – another power accorded by Section 63 – run completely against the guarantees of the Magna Carta itself: an irony no doubt lost on Surrey Police and their political masters.”

This trial is the latest in a succession of failed attempts to prosecute pro-democracy activists by the Crown Prosecution Service. So far, a string of trials following Occupy Democracy protests in London have collapsed or resulted in acquitals.

ENDS

[1] Arrest footage (filmed by bambuser.com/AnnNarkeh): http://bambuser.com/v/5586063

[2] http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1994/33/section/63

[3] http://www.theecologist.org/blogs_and_comments/commentators/2908795/lets_turn_a_magna_carta_travesty_into_a_summons_to_defend_our_freedoms.html

Other references

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-surrey-33122629

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-surrey-32151822

http://www.getsurrey.co.uk/news/surrey-news/police-urge-people-stay-away-9446044

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