Alun Michael, former Minister for Rural Affairs, was today called as a witness in the ‘Westminster Eight’ trial by the defence. He testified that he was shocked when the defendants entered the chamber, but did not eventually feel a threat to his personal safety.
Despite extensive media coverage, and the “thousands of letters” he claimed to have received on the issue, he said on the day the men gained access to the Commons to make their protest, he didn’t realise what the point of it was.
“There are many protests going on in London much of the time,” he said.
He did however say later that he suspected the men may be protesting about hunting because “one of them referred to two topics when he was speaking to me, hunting and pensions, which suggested it might have had something to do with hunting.”
Mr Michael said he had felt shock and anger at the sight of the men on the floor of the chamber, but he felt confident at least that the one man who addressed him specifically, on hunting and pensions, was not going to carry out any violence towards him.
“They just seemed to be milling around,” he said.
The Defence Counsel sought to form an impression of the anger of the defendants on being ignored, stating that although at least two of them had written to Mr Michael himself on the hunting issue, they had had no response. Mr Michael answered that he had been dealing with ministerial correspondence at the time.
The Defence also claimed that although many people had been seeking to contact the Minister in the run up to the debates in September of last year, he had been avoiding engagements in rural areas, which Mr Michael denied.
The defence seems to be building its case based on eight young men seeking the ear of the Minister, rather than trying to provoke fear.
Kate Hoey took the stand after Mr Michael and said that she had noticed instantly the protest was about hunting, and that most MPs just sat back, and waited for the men to be removed.
The trial is expected to conclude tomorrow (Thursday 26 May).