Poles, hysteria & the public interest: Week 1 of the Combe Haven 19 trials

September 7, 2013 by combehavendefenders

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Combe Haven defendant Rosamond at Hastings Magistrates Court on Friday 6 September 2013.

Week 1 (2- 6 September) of the trials of the Combe Haven 19 saw the trials of Dominic (Mon – Wed) and Rosamond (Wed – Fri).

Supporters have been attending the cases – and sitting in the public gallery in the court – throughout the week, and are encouraged to continue doing so, as and when they can.  An updated list of trial dates (which continue until 11 October) can be found here.

Dominic was arrested on 8 January after occupying a telegraph pole adjacent to the Crowhurst Road, Rosamond on 17 December 2012 after entering the ‘1066 Motorcycles’ area in the old railway cutting in Sidley, Bexhill. In both cases preparatory tree-felling for the Bexhill-Hastings Link Road (BHLR) was taking place near to the area in question.

Dominic’s case raised a number of complex legal issues including: (1) whether or not be could be guilty of ‘highway obstruction’ when the ‘obstruction’ in question was unintended, indirect (it was the police who actually closed the road) and arguably unnecessary (it was argued in court that the police had several alternatives available to them that would have kept the traffic flowing); and (2) whether or not the actual arrest was lawful, given the long delay that occurred before Dominic was finally told the grounds for his arrest.

Coverage in this week's local papers.

Coverage in this week’s local papers.

In one interesting exchange one police officer admitted that she had used “incapacitant spray” (often referred to as “pepper spray”, though it is actually a 5% solution of CS in a solvent of Methyl Isobutyl Ketone) against demonstrators in a manner that breached the ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) guidance for its use. In particular, the spray is not supposed to be used at a distance of less than 1m “because it may cause damage to eyes due to the discharge pressure of the liquid”.  The officer accepted that her use of the spray had caused “panic or even hysteria” among some of those sprayed.

Because Dominic’s case had already over-run by a day, the judge decided that he would not announce the verdict until Monday 23 September.

Rosamond (pictured above)’s case therefore began on Thursday afternoon, and involves some complicated issues to do with land law (specifically, whether or not East Sussex County Council had the legal right to enter the property in question on the date concerned). Denied legal aid, she represented herself with the help of a McKenzie friend.

On two occasions – first, prior to the trial, and then again on Friday – the judge asked the prosecutor to consider whether or not the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service)’s decision to prosecute Rosamond (who was charged – like most of the other defendants – with Aggravated Trespass) was in the public interest given that: (a) Rosamond was only in the tree for about an hour; (b) tree-felling continued on the opposite bank while she was there; and (c) she voluntarily got down and left not long after she was spoken to by one of the police officers. Nonetheless, after consultation with the District CPS, the case continued.

Rosamond’s case continued through the whole of Friday, bumping the third trial (a four-person trial originally scheduled to begin on Friday morning) to next Monday (9 September).  The verdict in her case will be delivered by Judge Crabtree at 2pm on Monday 9 September.

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