ALFIE Meadows and Zak King, the two students charged with violent disorder following an anti-tuition fee demonstration on December 9, 2010, have both been found not guilty by a jury in a unanimous decision yesterday.*
It was the third trial the pair and their families had endured after a hung jury in the first, an abortion during the second and finally a unanimous not guilty following the third – more than two years after they were first arrested.
The pair faced up to five years in jail had they been convicted.
The jury agreed that they had acted in self defence and the defence of others as they momentarily helped use metal fencing to block police hitting out at protesters trapped in a kettle with their batons and shields.
The prosecution were clear that neither of them were accused of hitting out or throwing missiles at police.
The court also heard how King used shin pads strapped to his arms to block police baton strikes from connecting with himself and others.
The prosecution’s evidence rested on hours of video footage of which a few minutes featured the pair at the vanguard of clashes between police and protesters on Parliament Street on that day, of which a few seconds showed the pair in contact with the fencing, and the fact they remained at the front of clashes between police and protesters.
The two repeatedly defended their right to protest wherever they stood and to defend the protesters around them in the face of police aggression.
After the verdict, however, the judge said that King’s and Meadows’ behaviour was on the cusp of violent disorder and, turning to the gallery, warned against engaging in similar scenes in future.
After speaking to reporters and thanking their counsel the two headed over to the pub opposite to celebrate with friends, family and supporters.
While they can finally look forward to planning a future after a two-year hiatus to deal with the case, Meadows is expected to continue a criminal prosecution against the police for the strike to the head that left him on a surgeon’s table fighting for his life.
The IPCC has reportedly already contacted the family over the matter.
In a statement, Susan Meadows, Alfie’s mum, said: “The struggle for justice for my son has finally begun. The whole family has been through two years of total agony. We have been silenced on what happened to our son. We can now move on to the really important thing, which is to get justice for Alfie.”
Meanwhile, beyond the not guilty verdict, the case has highlighted the frailties and questionable approach to the policing of large public demonstrations.
In particular, the use of batons by police as a supposed last resort was questioned with police accused of its frivolous misuse and aiming at protesters’ heads despite being trained to target arms and legs to avoid life threatening and even lethal injuries.
The failure to use Wapping Boxes – metre-wide fencing that keeps police and protesters apart – more extensively to limit contact and baton use.
The counter-productive effects of implementing a containment without warning creating confusion and uncertainty among thousands of previously calm and passive protesters. The events that followed on that cold December day beg the question as to whether the containment resulted in more damage and injuries than it was supposed to prevent.
And the poor communication between senior officers, their deputies on the ground and the foot and mounted officers below them resulting in a failure to grasp what was actually happening around them and thus reacting to what they thought was happening. This was highlighted by the unilateral decision to ‘horse charge’ a crowd of (read: non) ‘violent’ protesters, who had been wrongly told they could exit at Broad Sanctuary after the containment had been enforced.
Equally, communication between police and protesters was virtually non-existent with no audio or visual public address system in place with officers acknowledging communicating with helmets on was near impossible.
These matters will no doubt be scrutinised in the coming weeks and months, but maybe most significant is that a jury decided two protesters were within their rights to stand their ground in the face of police aggression and protect themselves and others.
As Alfie Meadows said: “We had a right to be there.”
A press conference will be held on Monday morning by the free men and their barristers.
*Acknowledgement: after attending the trial of Alfie Meadows and Zak King everyday since it began on February 11, reporting on it regularly on this site, some readers may have been perplexed for the lack of Tweets from court or subsequent report on the final and most important day of the case, that of the not guilty verdict yesterday.
Well, having already invested four weeks of my time to report on the case and confident the jury, which retired at 11am on Friday morning, would not return a verdict before the end of the day, I chose not to attend, have a lie-in and get on with some ‘other stuff’. ‘The only way they will find today is if they have already unanimously decided on a not-guilty verdict and have nothing to discuss,’ I told myself. ‘The chances of that would be remote. They’ll at least give the judge and prosecution the courtesy of perusing the vast amounts of video evidence that was put before them.’ To be honest I think most people were expecting a hung jury, or a majority verdict at best, which would have taken us into Tuesday.
Well, amazingly, it seems they did have their minds made up and so I missed the verdict providing an unexpected ‘lesson learnt’ from the trial.
A small matter, however, in the face of the outcome.