W.O.M.B.L.E.S. Trial

The "WOMBLE 7" trial, over the week of May Day, sees seven "WOMBLES" facing charges of Public Disorder (Section 4 of the Public Order Act), and various other charges.

On 31 October 2001 a group of approximately 15 people, many wearing white overalls to symbolise ghosts (the original context of the white overall movement in Italy) and Halloween masks were harassed by uniformed police officers whilst walking down Oxford Street on their way to a Halloween party. Officers from a Territorial Support Group (TSG) van, who identified some of the group from an anti Henry Kissinger protest outside the Institute of Directors earlier that evening, stopped the group. Ironically, the police officers were part of the anti-terrorist "Operation Calm", implemented in response to September 11th.

When the van stopped, a police officer jumped out, grabbed hold of one of the group and threw him against a shop-window. Members of the group demanded to know what was going on, and that their friend be released. Other officers responded by pushing and pulling at the group. No attempt was made by the police to explain the situation.

After arresting a second member of the group more vans arrived and chased those remaining into an alley where they assaulted some of the group and arrested a further five. The seven were held in police custody for between 14 and 19 hours.

The group are probably to be tried by Roger Davies, District Judge at Horseferry Road Magistrates Court. Davies has achieved some infamy as a biased judge of protestors. Following Mayday 2000, he commented in court that protestors who pleaded not guilty and opted for trials, were "gutless", implying that he "knew" they were guilty and therefore saw no need for them to have time to prepare a defence! The barrister who prosecuted all the Mayday protestors in 2001 will be prosecuting the WOMBLE 7.

This trial is about the criminalisation of dissent, and the political repression of a group of activists. The date of the trial is no coincidence. The state believes that it has found a way of keeping the seven and their supporters out of the May Day celebrations.

The trial also makes explicit how the "anti-terrorist" hype after September 11 is being used to put more police officers on the streets, in order to crush dissent. Since September 11 2001 the British Government has been systematically removing our civil liberties in their ongoing "fight for freedom". This apparent contradiction goes unquestioned by our "free" press.

The terrorist attack in the USA has created a useful background for the government to increase police and governmental powers at the cost of freedom of movement and freedom of association.

With 1500 extra police on the streets, more CCTV cameras and a disregard for civil liberties we are all under threat; not from Bin Laden but from our own government. Talk of the introduction of ID cards, the denial of the right to appeal for asylum seekers, the government's ability to read every email we send and to listen to every phone call we make is a dangerous turn of events.

When people cry out about the increasing government surveillance, many people say that "if you are not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about". But, who decides what is wrong? If you are black you are 7 times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than a white person. If you wish to attend an anti-war march you are very likely to be photographed, and marked as a troublemaker. If at anytime you voice your concerns about government policy you could become a target of police repression. THE ANTI-TERRORIST BILL WOULD HAVE MADE SUPPORT FOR NELSON MANDELLA ILLEGAL AND COULD HAVE RESULTED IN THE INDEFINITE DETAINMENT OF ANTI-APARTHEID DEMONSTRATORS.

A Statewatch report earlier this year http://www.statewatch.org/news/2002/feb/10anarch.htm shows the determination of the EU, via Europol to criminalise protest with the creation of two new "terrorist" categories: "Eco-terrorism" and "Anarchist terrorism". Over 1000 people have died in police custody in around 30 years without one officer being convicted. Not one person has been killed or injured by anti-capitalist protestors. WHO IS THE REAL THREAT?

What has this got to do with the arrests in Oxford Street? These arrests are endemic of the power the police feel they have to harass members of the public. This sort of thing happens every night of the week, especially if you are black, Asian or live in a poorer part of London.

In their statements police consistently refer to "the violence of the WOMBLES" and to their "reputation for carrying concealed weapons", despite the fact that the WOMBLES are consistently monitored by a Forward Intelligence Team (FIT), are extensively filmed on all demonstrations, and have never been convicted of violence or charged with carrying weapons. At worst, the WOMBLES are "guilty" of highlighting the repressive behaviour of the Metropolitan Police in their handling of "public order situations", and to advocate that people protect themselves from police violence on demonstrations by wearing padding and helmets. The group was not on a demonstration on that night, and were not wearing padding or helmets and so were easily victimised by the police.

The police claim that there is no useful video footage of the incident, despite the fact that the initial encounter took place on Oxford Street, between two nests of cameras. Oxford Street is one of the most monitored streets in the world, and is known to have "facial recognition" software.

This trial is about repression and police brutality. It is about one man, with a known anti-protestor bias, being responsible for delivering "JUSTICE" to seven activists. It is a state sponsored attack on a part of the anti-capitalist movement.

Parallels have been drawn between this trial and the OZ obscenity trial in the late 1960's. OZ was a counter-cultural magazine and the trial became a cause celebre. It was widely felt that the magazine was being targeted as a way of getting at the counter-culture as a whole. The state is fearful of 'anti-capitalism' and has targeted the WOMBLES as a highly visible symbol of the movement. This is a direct continuation of the police repression witnessed at Genoa, on the policing of the Brighton demo in September and the attack on a recent demonstration outside the Italian embassy on Saturday, 2 March 2002. Groups such as Indymedia (http://www.indymedia.org.uk) are under increasing attack from authorities all over the world. Last years Mayday protestors were under constant threat and FIT routinely monitor activists. Yet, far from destroying the "anti-capitalist" movement this trial is drawing support from both the activist community and the wider community.

This is a part of an escalating attack on the anti-capitalist movement. Not because of handfuls of angry kids burning banks or breaking windows - but because our criticisms and ideas have gone from nowhere to gaining widespread acceptance in less than five years.