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Read Vanity Fair and go to jail

29 June 2006
You might be forgiven for thinking that Vogue House, the London headquarters of the Condé Nast stable of magazines, is an unlikely place to find a militant revolution in the making - but you'd be wrong - or so say the Metropolitan Police.

On June 18, the Met arrested Stephen Jago in Whitehall for protesting in contravention of the Serious Organised Crime Police Act (SOCPA); legislation that was brought in as a result of Brian Haw's five-year anti-war protest in Parliament Square, that bans protests within a mile of the Westminster Parliament.

Jago was carrying a placard quoting George Orwell, and several copies of an article entitled "Blair's Big Brother Britain", from Vanity Fair magazine. The police informed Mr. Jago that the article was "politically motivated material", and suggested that it was evidence of his desire to break the law. The police confiscated the articles as evidence of his supposed offence, and questioned him extensively about the article during his subsequent interview. Mr. Jago's case is still pending.

The article's author, Henry Porter, who also happens to be the London editor of Vanity Fair, has written a letter to Sir Ian Blair, pointing out that while " the word sedition was not used, but clearly that is the light in which the article was regarded by the Metropolitan police." He also raises the point with Sir Ian that, if Mr. Jago's prosecution is supported by having copies of an article from a mainstream publication on his person, that, in effect, press freedom will be unacceptably curtailed.

You might have thought the Met has had plenty of adverse publicity of late – the killing of Jean-Charles De Menezes and the bungled Forest Gate anti-terror raid - evidently they are hungry for more.

This affair is also a fine illustration of the arrogance that goes with being in government for a protracted period. Politicians don't want to be annoyed by protesters while shuttling around Whitehall, so they ban protests citing "security", and set the Met on anyone who disagrees.

That Mr. Jago has been charged at all for exercising his right to protest is an utter disgrace. We await Sir Ian Blair's reply to Henry Porter with interest. In the meantime, expect any "seditious" material – copies of Cosmopolitan perhaps – to be seized with vigour by the Met, for your own protection.

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