Four anti-Israel protesters were today found guilty of aggravated trespass by District Judge Ian Baker.
They were each given an 18 month conditional discharge (as long as they are not guilty of any further offences in that time no further action will be taken).
Costs of £250 were awarded against each defendant.
The convictions relate to two separate occasions at Ahava in Covent garden, London.
The first occasion, involving Gwendolen Wilkinson and Matthew Richardson, was on 2nd October 2010.
The second occasion, involving Jessica Nero and Christopher Osmond, was on 22nd November 2010 (this was the view from outside Ahava on the day).
Both occasions involved similar actions by the defendants. They entered Ahava and locked themselves onto a concrete block leading to Ahava having to close down and lose business.
However, both occasions led to slightly different charges.
In relation to events on 22nd November the District Judge found the defendants guilty under S69 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 for knowing that a direction to leave land had been given under S69(1) and they failed to leave that land as soon as practicable. For the direction by the police officer to be valid the prosecution must prove that he had a reasonable belief of the commission of aggravated trespass or obstruction of a lawful acvitity.
The District Judge found that the direction to be valid as the officer “saw a shop apparently trading as shops should do”.
Also, as the defendants had created a situation where their own leaving was “impracticable” the test of practicability did not apply to them. Otherwise, trespassers could take “ever more extreme steps to frustrate the powers of the police under S69”.
Events on 2nd October were prosecuted under S68. The elements of the offence were:
1. a person trespasses on land
2. where persons are engaged in a lawful activity
3. and does anything intended to obstruct or disrupt that activity.
The DJ said that as there was no suggestion that Ahava or its employees were occupying the premises illegally the case against the defendants was made out.
He said that the employees were “acting lawfully in accordance with their terms of employment” and could not be considered accessories to any alleged offences. The defendants disrupted the normal activities of the employees by what they did and so the case against them was made out.
The DJ did consider alleged criminal activity by Ahava, which could have made even the employees’ activities illegal, but could not come to any proper conclusions as follows:
The defendant’s claims of illegality because “everything Ahava does at the shop is unlawful because of its actions in the OPT” is behaviour “in relation to which the Metropolitan Police have declined to take action…At this statge, it constitutes little more than a line of reasoning…Until such time as Ahava UK is prosecuted….I can do no more than accept that its a shop trading lawfully”.
And on labelling the DJ said that “The goods come from the Dead Sea and are so labelled. The Dead Sea is not a country….I am strengthened in this view by the fact that no law prohibits the sale in the UK of goods produced in the OPT by Israeli companies”.
Even if he was wrong on all this the DJ felt the defendants acted disproportionately citing that we are a democratic country with many democratic procedures available but “they are not free to act in the way they did on this occasion”.