The end of the long and expensive affair

Hi, I got out of court on Wednesday.

For my own sake I want to recount the whole fiasco and have it recorded somewhere. Hey, be warned that this post is long and won’t give an insight into the emotions and process of a protest (the Great Climate Swoop – a high-profile attempt to shut down Ratcliffe-on-Soar power plant near Nottingham).

Alright. So I was perched in the sinking sun on Ely Station on my way back home when I finally relaxed my mind’s eye and thought aboutrecounting the Swoop rather than just my arrest. And here I realised what the court case has done to my memory: the following description comes from a distant impersonal bird’s view and so do the pictures I’d drawn, except for the moment of arrest. Since having the cuffs clamped on, my memories have been constructed and revised to be objective objective, and so they are zoomed out, they are broader diagrams of the crowd and events, criss-crossed and cross-examined with my motives and motions, those supposed and in actuality.

Thinking of the protest like that, not a lot happened and less can be proved. Gone are the feelings of the crush and the throng, though I was right in the middle of it all dressed up in a bright red cape with a bright red bandit mask, pressed against the fence, pushed and shoved, perhaps even hacking with bolt cutters (and you’d think I would remember something like that). At the time the emotional bombardment was incredible – abuse, damage, inertia and impulse (physically, mentally) – and would need to be processed later. I didn’t get to do that, as that night I was writing detailed witness statements and rerunning the same five minutes repeatedly through my head looking for imperfections in the scenery the police had painted in their statements.

So here is my dry account of what happened. Perhaps I’ll take time later to talk more abstractly about adrenalin and action in protests – always difficult to come to terms with, but it should make some damn good-looking comics.

So what happened,

Preparation for these things is always interesting. For groups that organise non-hierarchically and where it’s all about good communication, secrecy is a tough thing to live with. But for weeks before there were furtive mutterings and walks to the park where you wouldn’t get heard, batteries out of mobiles (just – just in case!), and bric-a-brac was bought with cash only.

At a midnight a few days before the Swoop, a small group was at the make-shift skate park, playing with some new things and preparing for the day.

On the day, we drove out towards Ratcliffe and stopped a few miles short, scurrying away from the road before police checks caught us. We picked our way across the gentle countryside towards the power plant towers, avoiding well-used routes and roads, following fox tracks and hedgerows, a few scouts always at the next bend ready for trouble.

– which was useful as scouts crested the hill ahead and found a cop car trundling towards them. We chucked our bags and then ourselves into the bushes. When we thought it safe we moved away through the woods.

Before long we reached the rally point in a wood at the top of a hill near the power plant, where drums and banners and costumes flickered between dark pines in a bright and edgy mood. There were two or three hundred people, and we set off towards the power plant in five columns.

So it was pushing, climbing, running. People with masks and banners climbing the fence, horses, dogs, fluorescent jackets. Hauling on grappling ropes on the fence, struggling to know what you should and could do, avoiding being carried away in any way, losing your cape. The heave and surge of the crowd. Non-violent action.

After thirty or forty minutes everyone regrouped at the top of a slope, rested and a bit, and went for it again. There’s a wonderful video of an acquaintance of mine skipping down a hill with enormous bolt cutters in their hands.

One police officer in the thick of things collapsed and went unresponsive. Nobody knew what had happened, and so activists backed off uncertainly up the hill and made room for the paramedics. (We found out later it was from dehydration.) Shortly afterwards, as a police kettle looked ready to form, a semblance of a meeting was held and everyone agreed to retire for a tea break. This was the scene –

The police officer there with his hand up my shirt is PC Jones from the Nottinghamshire force. He was probably bored as the everyone was standing still, not doing much and not facing him. I shoved him away when I felt him groping me – he had a huge grin on his face. I turned back to the crowd, someone in the police line shouted “Get him!” and I was dragged out before anyone was even aware of what was happening. Really, given Officer Jones’ attention like that, I should have turned around and kissed him.

I was pinned to the ground and arrested for punching him in the face. I was led away into the power plant compound and then spent the next forty minutes chatting amicably to the sergeant who arrested me. When we couldn’t find a prison van to take me away, he offered to de-arrest me in exchange for my name which I’d hitherto withheld. I agreed, but the offer was withdrawn when we couldn’t find a way out of the compound. I guess at that point the sergeant had to make up stories about what I’d done.

We drove round the plant in the commander’s (borrowed) car until we found a prison van. Stayed in the box there for a while. Drove to the police station where I was put in a cell and did a no-comment interview. Police statements against me declared that I had been acting unpleasantly, repeatedly trying to break through the police line and then shoved Officer Jones in the face with my hand. I was charged with disorderly behaviour, which was upgraded to assault in the paperwork.

I was released at 10pm and told I wasn’t allowed near British power stations until further notice. A number of other people were arrested later that day and were kept on a different floor. They had plenty of fun with the usual activist prison games: singsongs and screaming matches mostly.

I’ve been back to Nottingham courts and police station three times since – to answer bail and get a court date, to attend that first court date and give my intention to plead not guilty, and then for my trial on Wednesday.

A week or two before the trial I was offered the chance for my charge to be downgraded to ‘obstruction of a police officer in the execution of his duties’ in exchange for a guilty plea. I spent hours wrangling over whether to accept this, deciding between contradicting a police officer in a desperate hope for some justice, or meekly accepting a punishment and a criminal record for a fabricated crime. In the end I went for the latter.

My final court appearance lasted all of ten minutes. I was given a £100 fine, charged £100 costs and given a very stern and talking to (about Morals for young gentlemen with a Future ahead of them and how despicable my behaviour was) by the judge, which felt thoroughly excessive.

This is not going to stop me going to protests or taking part in actions. The knowledge that you can be arrested and found guilty of imaginary crimes for the convenience of the police isn’t new. It mustn’t interfere with the right to protest or we’re all screwed.

Here are some nicer photos of the day – enjoy the aesthetic play of activists, woods, hi-vis jackets and cooling towers.

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