17 Nov 2011

UK Uncut Fortnum protesters found guilty

Ten protesters who occupied Fortnum and Mason during an anti-cuts demonstration earlier this year are found guilty of aggravated trespass.

Demonstrators from UK Uncut protest at Fortnum and Mason. Ten have been found guilty of aggravated trespass (Reuters)

The luxury department store in central London was targeted by members of the UK Uncut campaign group on the day of a large TUC march on the capital.

London’s City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard protesters organised the 26 March occupation of the store on Twitter “as they believe that the store is guilty of tax avoidance.”

A very small minority decided to break the law and we must not allow them to undermine the right to lawful protest CPS

The protesters told Channel 4 News they have been ordered to pay costs of £1,000 each. Nine of them have been given conditional discharges with the remaining protester being fined £200. They say they will appeal their convictions.

Around 500 activists took part in a peaceful occupation of Fortnum and Mason – nicknamed “the Queen’s grocer” – after organisers told them to head to the shop in a last-minute message on Twitter.

‘We will not be put off’

In a statement, the defendants said: “We have been convicted of aggravated trespass, an example of a law created in the 1990s as an attack on our rights to protest and which is used in situations like this one to turn protesting into a crime.

“We will, of course, continue to fight this and will be appealing the judgement.

“As the government’s cuts continue to destroy the economy and people’s lives we will not be put off by these attempts at humiliating and punishing us.”

The incident was part of a number of unofficial protests that coincided with Labour leader Ed Miliband’s speech to peaceful demonstrators at a TUC rally in Hyde Park.

Meanwhile in New York, hundreds of Occupy Wall Street protesters marched through New York’s financial district toward the stock exchange to protest economic inequality at the heart of the American capitalism.

The demonstration comes two days after police evicted hundreds of protesters from their camp at Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, where the Occupy Wall Street movement was born on 17 September.

It sparked solidarity rallies and occupations of public spaces across the United States and around the world including outside St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

Protest ‘not peaceful’

Alison Saunders, CPS London chief crown prosecutor, said: “On March 26, 2011, thousands of people protested peacefully and made their point without breaking the law.

“A very small minority decided to break the law and we must not allow them to undermine the right to lawful protest.

“These protesters chose to disrupt a legitimate business, which is not a peaceful protest and is a criminal offence.”

The 10 convicted today were the first of three groups of protesters charged in relation to the Fortnum and Mason occupation.

Two more trials will take place next March. More than 130 people were originally charged but prosecutors discontinued proceedings against about 100.