ALFIE Meadows, the student charged with violent disorder following a student demonstration in 2010 after suffering a baton strike to the head, told a court today he stood by his decision to defend fellow protesters from police aggression, but denied engaging in any violence.
The 22-year-old was giving evidence under cross-examination by prosecution barrister James Lofthouse for the first time at Woolwich Crown Court, where he denies the charges, as the case entered its fourth week.
He said at no time had he been violent towards officers on December 9, but admitted helping manoeuvre a piece of metal fencing to act as a ‘defensive shield’ to protect fellow protesters from excessive police force.
However, Lofthouse accused Meadows of coming to the demonstration intent on confrontation after taking the view that officers had been excessively violent towards protesters during three previous protests in the run-up to the march.
In preparation he took a balaclava and scarf to protect his identity from police and looked for trouble on the day, he said, “You came dressed for violence and sought it out”.
At around 2.20pm after arriving in Parliament Square, the prosecutor said, Meadows left his friends making his way to the front of a dense crowd close to police lines – after fencing around Parliament Green had been taken down – and donned a face mask to hide his identity as missiles were thrown when he could have kept away. There was no suggestion Meadows took part in any violence at this stage.
Later, at around 5.30pm after earlier walking up Whitehall in a bid to leave the area, Lofthouse said, Meadows chose to hide behind a metal railing with others, don his mask, link arms and resist police attempts to push them back towards Parliament Square, when he could have easily left of his own volition, and kicked his leg out towards an officer. Again, there is no suggestion Meadows was violent at this time.
However, between 5.57pm and 6pm on Parliament Street, Lofthouse accused Meadows of leaving his friends, covering his face and joining in attacks on the police with metal fencing, taken from Parliament Green, with a crowd that vastly outnumbered the group of officers they were facing.
Lofthouse said: “This line of officers was vastly outnumbered by the crowd and you joined in violent attacks on them with Heras fencing.”
Summarising, Lofthouse said: “We’ve seen footage of you from three distinct periods on three entirely separate occasions where you have departed from the company you’re with at the time and gone up the front, donned your balaclava and sought confrontation with the police. On each occasion you escalated the degree of violence and hostility towards the police.”
However, Meadows denied the claims saying that not only did he have a right to be where he stood, but that he felt obliged to help fellow protesters he feared were under risk of attack by heavily armed officers.
He said he only wore a balaclava and scarf to hide his identity as the police attempt to criminalise protest and protesters by collecting intelligence on individuals who had committed no crime.
On heading to the front of the crowd on Parliament Square close to the Houses of Parliament Meadows said he went out of interest, to protest and to see what was happening. “It was the reason we were there,” he said, “we had every right to be there.”
On linking arms with fellow protesters and resisting being pushed down Whitehall towards Parliament Square, Meadows said, the police didn’t seem justified in doing it and despite being scared as the police ‘rammed shields’ into their faces chose to stay.
“There were other people staying at the front and I was going to stay with them.” he said.
On moving to the front of the confrontation between police and protesters at 5.57pm Meadows said he feared the riot police were going to attack and that he attempted to help use the fencing for protection and push the police back.
Meadows denies and suggestion he engaged in violent disorder at any time.
The trial continues.
Snapshots of some of the exchanges between prosecution barrister James Lofthouse and Alfie Meadows.
On Meadows heading to the front of the crowd on Parliament Square at around 2.20pm.
Pros: Did you think throwing the missiles was okay?
Alfie: I thought it was a bit pointless but it wasn’t causing any injury.
Pros: But you don’t say it was wrong?
Alfie: I didn’t think it was a great thing to do, but I was more concerned about being struck with police batons.
Pros: Frankly you thought the protesters could do whatever they wanted.
Alfie: I think my attitude was better than some of the police officers who have given evidence about baton use.
Pros: Why didn’t you just get back and avoid confrontation?
Alfie: There were a lot of people being hit with batons so I tried to raise the fence [to protect them].
Pros: The protesters are never in the wrong are they Mr Meadows.
Alfie: I didn’t say that [but] I didn’t see protesters attacking officers, but I saw the police attacking protesters.
On resisting being pushed down Whitehall by police at around 5.30pm.
Pros: Although you had no idea why police were pushing down Whitehall and there may have been good reason you didn’t do what you were told.
Alfie: We were already in a containment, people wanted to leave, so there didn’t seem a very good reason to do it.
Pros: You left your friends to meet like-minded people to confront the police.
Alfie: No. I lost my friends as I walked up Whitehall.
Pros: There’s nothing preventing you from moving back.
Alfie: No there’s not.
Pros: The police aren’t going to let you through are they. So you’re not going to achieve anything at all.
Alfie: There were other people staying at the front and I was going to stay with them.
Pros: You were enjoying the excitement of the confrontation.
Alfie: No, we were being attacked by the police. We had shields rammed in our faces. You’re going to be scared but it doesn’t mean you’re going to go back.
On leaving his friends and moving to the point of conflict between police and protesters on Parliament Street at 5.57pm.
Pros: The officers are standing in a line. They are not going into the crowd and attacking people.
Alfie: I think I remember them hitting people above the Heras fencing and the protesters were using the Heras fencing to protect themselves.
Pros: You used Heras fencing to attack them.
Alfie: No, to protect protesters.
Pros: There’s absolutely no reason for you to make your way to the front of the crowd.
Alfie: I chose to go there because I thought [the police] were going to attack the crowd and I wanted to keep [the police] back.
Pros: You’re a slightly built young man with no weapons, no defensive body armour, given the context you weren’t going to make any difference at all.
Alfie: I felt it was something I should do, but maybe it wouldn’t help, but the group of protesters seemed like me.
Pros: You saw an angry and hostile crowd attacking the police and you wanted to be part of it.
Alfie: No, I thought the police were attacking the crowd and I didn’t want to just walk by. I saw the police hitting the protesters and wanted to help use the fencing to help push [the police] back.