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A Trial of our Time - update on the prosecution of the Brighton 9

The creative protesters of UKUncut generated exceptional media coverage of the issue of tax avoidance by Britain's super-rich at the end of 2010. For the first time a group, the Brighton 9, are on trial after they super-glued themselves to a TopShop window. An effort has been mounted to link their action to the riots while the mainstream media have lost interest. Here is an update after the first two days in court.

Will intelligent non-violent action against the extraordinary inequalities of the financial system now be punished harshly in the wake of the riots? This is a question of the moment in Britain, although not one for the meanstream media. It gave UKUncut a lot of coverage over the Xmas period but now it seems the gleam of fashion in exposing tax avoidance is just a little bit more serious and threatening, after the open criminality of the riots. All the more reason to attend to what is happening in the trial of the Brighton 9. Niki Seth-Smith set the scene here before it opened. They had super-glued themselves to the window of TopShop on 4 December to protest against the massive tax avoidance by its owner Sir Philip Green. Now they stand accused at Brighton Magistrates court of breaking some mannequins

Andrew Burnyeat reported in facebook on how "one of the police officers involved... admitted that cops handled the Topshop mannequins alleged to have been damaged by the defendants...

Giving evidence for the prosecution, the Hastings-based police sergeant said he passed mannequins to a 'chain' of officers after protestors had 'super-glued' their hands to the inside of the shop window....

The officer was unable to comment on the condition of the mannequins after he had handled them, and said he had no knowledge of what happened to them after he passed them to colleagues....

The court was told that during a 40-strong protest on a busy Saturday lunchtime, several protestors entered the stores. The shops' manager gave evidence that protestors came past her as she was attempting to close the doors to prevent them entering, but later admitted that CCTV footage, shown to her and the court today (September 13), did not back up her recollection that they ran past her and into the shop window area, where the offences are alleged to have taken place.

She said the damage caused to four mannequins was in the region of £3,700.

The police sergeant said he and other officers removed the mannequins to enable them to work in a very narrow space in order to ensure the safety of the protestors, whose hands were glued to the inner window.

He said he noticed that several 'limbs' belonging to the shop mannequins were already detached before he or other officers handled them, but admitted that he did not assess whether the limbs could be fitted back on to the mannequins.


Now the Uncutters have updated their experience on their blog,

Week one saw the prosecution finish much earlier than expected – after only two days as it happens. The majority of the prosecution witnesses – all but one in fact – were police officers present on the day of action last December.... any suggestion that we burst into Topshop like hooligans, knocking everything over in our wake, has now been well and truly refuted. Contradictory prosecution witness statements plus CCTV footage said it all.

The first day was also taken up just ever-so-slightly with the case of the missing CCTV footage – the stuff that might well show the police or shop staff “handling” the mannequins as opposed to us recklessly knocking them out the way, intent on destruction. The Topshop manager who gave evidence made it clear upon questioning that she only downloaded the footage from the shop cameras that she was instructed by her seniors to get footage from – the stuff that they deemed would be “relevant” for the case – and that whatever hadn’t been downloaded would now have been taped over. Why in that case, asked our defence barristers, had she downloaded several hours worth of a basement office with nothing happening in it, and an equally dormant corridor, and not the footage from the very window that we glued ourselves to? Was there something there that might help our case?

...

Friday saw the first of the two co-defendants take the stand. Tess highlighted the hypocritical disparity between the coalition report, which outlined the ConDem’s 4-year strategy issued when it came into power in May 2010, and the subsequent action pursued by the government.

The report (p.30) states: “”We will make every effort to tackle tax avoidance”. (Less than three months later, notorious tax avoider Sir Philip Green was appointed to lead the ConDem’s external spending review – i.e. to advise the government on spending cuts...  in a Guardian article written at the time, Sir Philip is quoted as saying:

“I will give this efficiency review my very best effort knowing how hugely important it is to the recovery of the country. I want to help focus, motivate and energise to achieve these efficiency savings. It is these actions that will restart growth in the UK.”

Recovery of the country? Restart growth in the UK? What about the millions he avoids in income tax every year?

... In the same article, Francis Maude, minister for the cabinet office, is quoted thus:

“We are extremely fortunate to have Sir Philip, with his immense commercial experience and of course his fantastic track record at managing large organisations, on board. Sir Philip has made clear to the government the importance of his business remit … that efficient operating is different from cost cutting and removing jobs.”

Come again? If by “fantastic track record at managing large organisations”, Maude means fantastic track record at knowing how to funnel your accounts through offshore tax havens...

So Tess took to the stand, did her thing and came away feeling pretty glad that amidst all the craziness of a two-week trial, she’d at least had a chance to speak out about the systemic hypocrisy and corporate-government corruption that makes her and her fellow co-defendants more than a tad queasy. Strike one to the #topshop9.

Strike two came after lunch, with Maria this time taking the stand. Maria also had some pretty fundamental things she wanted to talk about that explained why she felt it was necessary for her to take action against tax avoidance last December, notably the serious impact that the public spending cuts are having and will continue to have on midwifery services across the UK. A composed young woman determined to fight for the just treatment of women and newborns makes fat cats like Sir Philip and his corporate cronies look like the avaricious money-grubbers they really are....

Monday should see Richard Murphy (tax expert and poverty campaigner) and Dr Ron Singer take to the stand as expert witnesses for the defence before we proceed with the cross-examination of several more co-defendants. On Tuesday, Brighton MP Caroline Lucas will also be appearing as an expert witness, by which time the majority – if not all – of us should have undergone cross-examination.

By Thursday or Friday, we should therefore know the magistrate’s verdict. Keep up the support and keep spreading the word. With the ongoing implementation of deep, unjust and socially crippling public spending cuts, this is only the beginning…

About the author

Anthony Barnett (@AnthonyBarnett) is the founder of openDemocracy and author of The Lure of Greatness


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