High Court Enforcers and soft-top Porsches: week 10 of the Combe Haven trials

February 1, 2014 by combehavendefenders

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Trial 5 defendants outside Hastings Magistrates’ Court

“If this case goes on very much longer, I’ll be retired”
Judge Crabtree, on day 12 of trial 4 (originally anticipated to last 5 days)

Trial 4, of people arrested at basecamp near Adam’s Farm, recommenced on 28 January.  At 10am, the defendants were in the box, the judge was in his chair, the onlookers were looking on.  But where was the prosecutor?  Nobody could say. The court was adjourned for half an hour but there was still no sign of him.  Just then, the heavens opened and rain began drumming hard on the roof, leading the judge to make the comment, “Anyone driving a soft top Porsche in this weather is asking for trouble.”

Eventually the prosecutor arrived, surprisingly dry, and claiming that he hadn’t been informed the case was beginning at 10am (despite having been there when the date was set).  He blamed his clerk, who would, he said, be “given advice”.

First up was Maria’s evidence. She had doggedly pursued the issue of the warrant under which the High Court Enforcement Officers  (HCEOs) were acting, which turned out to be undated and thus arguably invalid (this is one of the points the judge will rule on when he delivers his verdict). In her evidence, she talked about how she knew the area and was opposed to overdevelopment of the countryside, which was why she had been at the camp.


Maria in treehouse at base camp (photo: Guardian)

Eventually all the evidence had been heard and it was time for the summing up.  When it was his turn, the prosecutor tried to suggest that an article written by Adrian for Corporate Watch, calling for resistance to the road, should be used as evidence of the mindset of all the defendants, but Judge Crabtree wasn’t having that, telling him that  “You can’t conceivably attribute these comments to anyone other than Mr Hopkins”.  Nice try.

Finally, the trial was over apart from the verdict, which will be given at Brighton Magistrates’ Court at 10am on Weds 12 March.

Trial 5 – of five people arrested at Decoy Camp – finally stuttered to a start the following day, exactly one year on from the camp’s eviction. Proceedings began with legal wrangling about the Compulsory Purchase Order warrants. The prosecutor presented defendants with a bundle of new evidence including a copy of warrant for the land which was dated, in contrast to an earlier, undated version. Questions were asked about why this dated version had suddenly appeared, and how there could be two original warrants, one dated and one not.


Eviction of Decoy Camp, 30 Jan 2013

The by-now familiar lurching figure of Kevin Thomas, HCEO, was in the witness box in the afternoon giving his account of the eviction and the warrants. He described how he apparently held the original warrants in his personal rucksack at all times, or else in his secure Shergoup vehicle. He admitted that people had asked to see the warrants during the Decoy evictions but he had refused to show them, and claimed this was normal practice. Despite the importance of these documents, it seems he did not check whether they were dated or not.

He continued giving evidence into the following day, at one point interrupted by a puffing Inspector Bartlett bursting in to inform the court that Mr Thomas’s car (that same “secure company vehicle”) was about to be towed away as it was parked improperly. Those who regularly walk Bohemia Road will be familiar with seeing Mr Thomas’s Shergoup vehicle parked outside the Travelodge blocking the pavement, and will be pleased to know that he was finally pulled up for it (although perhaps disappointed that his vehicle wasn’t towed away).


In the trees during the Decoy Camp eviction. Photo: Adrian Arbib

On Friday, Inspector Bright gave evidence about the arrests of the afternoon of the 29th January 2013, and about the policing policy. Explaining decisions to arrest, and that active resistance to removal from trees would render protestors liable to arrest, he made the curious assertion at one point that “passive resistance means active resistance” before being corrected by one of the Defence barristers. He also stated that degree of risk and danger was a central factor in the arrest policy – protesters putting themselves and climbers at greater risk would be more liable to arrest – but then refused to concede that being on a stable platform was a less dangerous position than on a rope walkway or branch.

Friday also saw evidence from David Asker HCEO, which included a long discussion about the precise location of the occupied trees in relation to the land boundaries. Mr Asker, the most senior Shergroup officer involved, revealed that he received the CPO warrants from East Sussex County Council in an envelope on 14th December 2012 and passed them to Mr Thomas without even looking at them.

At the close of this first week it was clear that significant questions existed around legal ownership of the land, the late appearance of a “new” dated warrant, of where exactly the alleged offences took place, and of the consistency and proportionality of the policing approach as regards decisions to arrest.

Trial 5 continues through the week of February 3 (10am at Hastings Magistrates’ Court each day).  Monday 3 February (10am) will include evidence in person from Claire Sandbrook, boss of Shergroup (which claims to offer ‘a no-nonsense solution to protect what is rightly yours’), concerning the warrants; and Chief Inspector Keating regarding policing policy. Then, of course, the Defence will get their chance.

To check that the trial is running as scheduled: 07565 967 250.

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