Hurt brains and excessive force: Week 8 of the Combe Haven trials

December 21, 2013 by combehavendefenders

The Trial 4 defendants and friends outside Hastings Magistrates Court (19 Dec 2013)

The Trial 4 defendants and friends outside Hastings Magistrates Court (19 Dec 2013)

“My brain hurts” – comment by the police Inspector in the case, en route to conferring with the prosecutor outside the court room during one of the breaks in Trial 4

Week eight of the trials of the Combe Haven 19 began on Monday 16
December with the verdict for Trial 3.

The four defendants had been charged with a variety of offences, and the verdict was split 50/50: two of the defendants were found not guilty of all offences and awarded travel costs amounting to £226 (though no compensation for their wasted time), with the other two receiving conditional discharges and ordered to pay £500 and £250 court costs respectively.

Expressing doubts about the ‘credibility’ of a key prosecution witness (a security guard), the judge noted the latter’s ‘evident lack of understanding’ of his powers under the law, his lack of training in restraint techniques, the ‘unreliable nature’ of his evidence (including ‘exaggeration’  and the ‘real possibility that excessive force was used’).

Finding that this same guard had given the defendant no warning and applied force immediately, without telling them that he was a High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO), the judge told the defendant in question (who was acquitted) that there was a ‘real possibility you honestly believed you were being attacked’.

After lunch, Trial 4 (which had already run for 8 days) resumed, with Tweets submitted as evidence.

Some amusement was provided by the prosecutor, who appeared to be grasping at straws when he suggested to one of defendants (who had been locked-on in a tree house 30 feet in the air) that he could have achieved his stated goal of achieving national media coverage for the campaign by instead standing on the Crowhurst Road wrapped in the banner. ‘That would have only reached five people’ came the more than reasonable reply.

Fortunately the prosecutor was not available in January 2013 to
provide tactical advice, and ample national media coverage was achieved.

Similarly, when the prosecutor asked why they had given a ‘no comment’
interview at the police station, one defendant reasonably responded that
this had been the advice given to him by his lawyer. Pressed about whether
he had understood that this ‘might harm’ his defence, the defendant
responded that while he understood that it ‘might’, ‘might harm’ didn’t
mean ‘will harm’, and that (as a non-lawyer) he had no idea whether this
‘might’ indicated a likelihood of 50% or 1%.

(Cross-examining them about an article they had written for Corporate Watch, the prosecutor accused a second defendant of having ‘tailored’ their language to the audience they were addressing. Answer: Yes, that’s what happens in all discourse.)

Trial 4 continued on Tuesday and Thursday, before eventually running into the
sand over an issue that appeared to threaten the prosecution’s entire case.
Namely, whether East Sussex County Council had been legally in
possession of the land in question, at the time when the defendants were
arrested. In particular, questions were raised about: (a) the wording of the warrant that the HCEOs had been operating under; and (b) the apparent lack of date on the only copy of the warrant that had been provided to the defendants.

Adjourning the case till 28 January (the start date of Trial #5) – and noting that Trial 4 had raised ‘significantly more [legal issues] than in 90% of Crown Court cases’ – the Judge outlined the three possible resolutions that he could envisage, the first of which was that the Crown could return and agree that there was a ‘fundamental flaw’ in its entire case (which would, presumably, lead to its collapse).

Next up, in the New Year, will be the resumption of Emily’s case (Trial #6) in London on 13 January, followed by the resumption of Trial 4 on 28 January, and then (finally) the start of Trial #5 (though it was hinted that a collapse of Trial #4 could have a major impact on Trial #5).

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