I will post either a film on youtube or a blog here about my day in court on friday. I prepared a whole speech and my 'evidence' as well as pages of questions for the police officers involved. In the end, I didnt get an opportunity to express myself for reasons I will explain later but for starters, here is the evidence I was presenting.
February 7th was a very cold day – a maximum of 3 degrees, and I was cycling from a meeting at Liverpool street and wearing a balaclava to keep warm. I had on me two of my signs which I hold up in public places as part of a performance art. It is my way of expressing myself in a world which seems to have gone mad. In a world where we are destroying the amazon at an alarming rate. Where we are allowing 25,000 children to die of hunger every day whilst we throw away billions of pounds worth of food; a world where we allow advertisers to mess with the minds of children to sell them unhealthy food and that turn so many women into anorexics; a world where we are so quick to judge people on first appearances. I don’t have the answers to these and many other questions but I do encourage myself and others to at least ask the questions rather than taking The Suns take on things (or even the guardian dare I say) !
Its difficult to explain what I do in response to things I notice could do with questioning but a good example for the court room would be the affirmation. Imagine Socrates in a witness box having to affirm that he was going to tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth ! As a philosopher I had to bite my tongue as I said those words because it felt to me like I was being forced to lie. So instead of kicking up a fuss in court which would only get everyones backs up, I asked the security guards here…..
I was on my way home to Hendon to prepare for a Barmitzvah my band was playing at and as I had my bike , I had to take the train from St Pancras. I had an hour to spare so I got out my ‘Don’t Panic’ sign and chose to stand outside the station rather than inside. I was already wearing the balaclava to keep me warm so I kept it on. I was of course aware of the irony of wearing a balaclava and the don’t panic sign but that was the point. To get peoples attention, to awaken them almost from this hypnotic state we seem to have been put in and encourage them to think outside the box and also get them to smile and enjoy the irony. This was not the first time I had worn the balaclava. In fact, 2 days previous I attended the protest against Tony Blair as he was giving evidence at the war tribunal. I didn’t go to protest but instead to perform my art. I had my balaclava on and used my megaphone and had people in hysterics including dozens of police officers, I know its hard to picture this but on that day I actually gave a number of them a hug, including a sergeant who said to me ‘What about me’ after seeing me hug his colleagues. I managed to break the ice in a very tense atmosphere. And of course not one police officer challenged me in any way on that day. I did briefly think of bringing the megaphone here today but my wife suggested that you may not take it the right way !
So at Kings Cross from my point of view people seemed to be enjoying it. I did not notice even one person who looked alarmed and besides, I am not sure how anyone could tell such a thing for certain. Occasionally, someone would come and ask me what I was doing and I would try and explain and they would smile.
After a few minutes, a PCSO came up to me to enquire what I was doing. This is something I am used to, since even when I hold up my ‘everything is ok’ sign in public places, the police sometimes come and question me. The first 2 officers were very courteous as you can see form the CCTV and asked me what I was doing. They were very calm and didn’t seem alarmed at all. I was very courteous in return and tried to explain what it was I was doing. As is the case with all art, sometimes an explanation ruins it because an essential part of the process is having the viewer make his/her own interpretation. Part of my whole purpose is to encourage people (including the police) to think for themselves – hence the counter side to my banner – don’t believe anyone including me – a paradox which really makes people think in my experience. I replied to their question by saying that I was trying to make the world a better place etc which is a big part of the underlying purpose. Just before they went, they asked how long I would be there for. To me this is a clear signal that they did not think I was breaking the law, because otherwise they would have asked me to stop. I replied a few minutes.
A few minutes later, 3 officers approached me – I think it was one PCSO and 2 BTP officers. The BTP officer again asked what I was doing. I didn’t want to explicitly call it performance art because I thought they would then say ‘ you cant perform without a license’ even though I wasn’t actually doing it for money at all. So I said it was a kind of performance art and that I was doing it to make the world a better place which is true. He then asked me if I had thought about what effect it might have on 7/7 victims ? To be honest, I hadn’t thought that through at all. I purposefully don’t watch the news at all and don’t associate kings cross with 7/7. But none of the officers mentioned that there was any specific and serious complaints about me until Officer Yazdani tried to get my details. Had I have known that I had caused upset I would have immediately stopped. They wouldn’t even have had to ask me.
Because of the nature of my art, I actually carry on my person the wording from the case of
Redmond-Bate v Director of Public Prosecutions,  HRLR 249:
Where Lord Justice Sedley stated
"Free speech includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative provided that it does not tend to provoke violence. Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having."
I would indeed describe what I do as contentious, eccentric and heretical to some, but as Lord Sedley states, I felt what I was doing was well within the law. Based on this ruling, I discussed this with the officer.
After a brief conversation with this officer, he first signalled to a network rail employee who had appeared by now at the door and said that they wanted me off the site and then he pointed to a fictitious line (as is again clear in the CCTV coverage) which he said was the end of the boundary of the BTPs jurisdiction and said I could do it over there and it wouldn’t be his problem any more. This is another example of agreement that what I was doing was not breaking the law in their opinion. Just as I was about to move my bike and go over this line, Officer Yazdani said ‘Oh no. You cant go there. I took out my phone and started filming to protect myself at this stage. He then said ‘Please can I have your name and address.’ I took that to be a request rather than an order (which is how it was worded) and replied that I wouldn’t give my name and address because I hadn’t committed a crime and it was my understanding that I did not have to give my details. I have been asked for my details several times by the police just for holding my everything is ok sign, and have rarely given them because I started educating myself a year ago about what my rights are and unless I have committed a crime or am suspected of doing so, I know I don’t have to give them. Officer Yazdani said that he thought I had breached section 5 of The Public Order Act. At this stage I was feeling very intimidated and asked with incredulity ‘Is it a crime to wear a balaclava ? Is it a crime to hold up a sign saying don’t panic ? Officer Yazdani then stumbled saying its not a crime to wear a balaclava but if it is causing alarm harassment and distress it could be. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I asked what would happen if I didn’t give him my details and he said he would arrest me. As you may see today, I have trained myself to think about things especially if I AM FEELING ANXIOUS, so I closed my eyes and thought about it for 30 seconds or so. When I opened my eyes, Officer Yazdani was obviously very irritated and said he would get me for wasting police time. I then asked him ‘if I give you my name, will you let me go if all is ok?’ He responded ‘I cant promise that’ I then said I needed to think further at which stage he lost patience and arrested me. So in reality I got arrested for hesitating to give my name after being requested and not ordered to do so based on what turned out to be a mistake on his part because he was clearly unfamiliar with the wording of section 5. As is reported partially by the police officers I then repeated – please de-arrest me. I will give you my details. I was anxious to get home and to work. But he completely ignored this and didn’t take the details at all until I was in the police station. If he was in the slightest bit concerned about wasting police time he would have done this but that was not what was going on. He was obviously angry that I hadn’t complied with his request (once again, to my knowledge, I can refuse a request if I choose to)
He handcuffed me and left me in the handcuffs very tightly around my wrist and took me into an office and searched me and found nothing offensive of course. They kept my cuffs on all the time including the back of the van which was totally unnecessary because he could have taken my name and discovered that I had no previous convictions. I had marks on my wrists from that incident and it was very painful and humiliating. Once at the station, more things happened that were questionable. I was asked whether I wanted a solicitor and I replied ‘yes please’ so they arranged one on the phone. Instead of arranging for me to speak to her in private, I had to speak to her in front of the officers. When the sergeant explained what had happened, the duty solicitor said ‘well that is not an offence under the public order act which it clearly wasn’t. I verified that with her whilst they were all listening. This useful and helpful piece of advice which was meant to help me was then turned around and used by the police against me.
After the phone call, the sergeant said I could either accept a caution, which I knew would require my admitting guilt, or I could accept a charge. He then locked me up for 15 minutes so I could ‘think about it’ In that time , the officers must have got on the internet or called the CPS to find a byelaw to charge me with. This practise seems at odds with the police’s powers to change the charge which I presume is there so that they can convict serious criminals. It was a spiteful act and they were tipped off by the solicitor who was innocently intending to help me. The reason I believe this was spiteful is that I wasn’t their normal apologetic guy because I felt I had been wrongfully arrested and felt abused and bullied.
I chose the charge.
Then I got to really experience the total incompetence of the BTP and everyone I spoke to in court said I shouldn’t be surprised. I wonder how things would be different if the accused were compensated for all their incompetence. But there is no such incentive so they can mess people like me around if they fancy.
When I got there the following week on 17th February, my name want even listed. When I eventually found myself on a list, there were no papers. It took until around 3 pm before I could simply put in my plea. If I was to turn up at 3 pm, could I simply apologise for being incompetent.
And if that wasn’t enough, the Case Management hearing was set for 17th march. I turned up at 10 am but again no papers. By 3 pm I was told that there was nothing that they could do . The district judge apologised and said he would ensure that the papers were there the following week. Imagine if I would have not bothered turning up. Could I have just apologised ? Is this equality before the law ?
So I returned the following week and guess what ? Once again, no papers. I waited and waited but nothing came so by mid afternoon it was decided that the case management hearing would be scrapped and it would go straight to trial. There was a request by the barrister to have the case dismissed but for some unfortunate reason the Crown prosecutor thought it should continue.
So here we are.