The eight men who stormed the Houses of Parliament last November during votes on the Hunting Act were in court yesterday for the first day of their trial amid vocal support from pro-hunting campaigners.
The trial is taking place at Bow Street Magistrates Court in London this week, and as the defendants arrived yesterday many people were present outside to show their support for the men who sought to take their case straight to the politicians.
Otis Ferry, David Redvers, John Holliday, Robert Thame, Andrew Elliot, Richard Wakeham, Nicholas Wood and Luke Tomlinson were all arrested and charged following the protest, although some argue the trial is a waste of public money for a minor offence. Others maintain that levels of respect for Parliament must remain in place.
The defendants are denying that their behaviour caused “harassment, alarm or distress”. The court was told that Otis Ferry, 22, was the “prime organiser” of the plan, and heard of his detailed preparation before the actual day, which involved a successful dummy run previous to the actual protest itself.
As evidence given yesterday revealed exactly what transpired on the day, it seems a severe lack of security allowed the protestors past several checkpoints, and into the chamber itself. Deputy Speaker Sylvia Heal told how she did not fear for her life because the men seemed to be turning their attention for the most part on government ministers, particularly Alun Michael.
One of the eight, Robert Thame said in a police interview how they made a “full on charge” into the Chamber but denied he barged through the doorkeepers. He said: “I just ran around and straight in. It seemed empty. I thought it was the biggest debate.
“I wanted to make a statement but that did not happen. I went and sat next to Alun Michael and asked if he wanted a proper debate.”
Another protestor shouted the MPs were a “disgrace to democracy” and called Alun Michael a liar before they were dragged out. As they were being removed, Nicholas Woods shouted “No violence, no violence,” the hearing was told.
Today Luke Thomlinson gave evidence, testifying that he thought getting into the chamber of the House of Commons would be like “Getting out of Colditz”. He said they thought they had about a 50% chance of making it all the way in, and added that when they got there, they were shocked at the small number of MPs there debating the issue.
The idea, he said, was to form some sort of peaceful protest chain on the floor of the commons to try and make MPs listen to their point of view. He also pointed out that he used no violence and did not resist when carried out of the chamber: “I did not intend to cause alarm or distress. I wasn’t aware I had caused alarm or distress.”
The defendants are hoping to prove that they did not in fact cause any distress as a result of their actions, and are expected to try to convince some MPs who were in the chamber at the time of the incident to testify to that effect.
The verdict is expected in a few days, and if any of the defendants are found guilty, they could be faced with a £5000 fine, or up to six months in prison.