Obstruction of the Highway - Guilty: 10/05/21

Court date

Bench (DJ or JPs)

DJ Sally Fudge

Charged with:

S137. Wilful Obstruction of the Highway on 4/9/20 at News International’s Broxbourne Printworks   

Represented by:

4 by Raj Chada (HJA). Defendant (Def) 3 and Def 5 self-rep’d – see above.

Please outline key points in prosecution and defence cases.


DAY 1 – 10 May

12.26 Late start. Delay caused by Disobedience in the Dock by Def 3.

DEF Raj announced that he was ‘assisting’ Def 3 in his absence.

CPS Said he was calling 2 police officers and 2 of 3 civilians (News Intl. employees). He did not know which 2 yet, but they would be here tomorrow.

DEF Those civilians were on the PET form, then withdrawn because they “could not be relied on”, now today you say they will appear – tomorrow. I cannot say how long the defence will take because of this unknown.

Def 5 said he had little to add to the defence’s times. The judge ensured he knew to cross-examine the witnesses.


Exhibits: photos of the obstruction were provided.

PC Josh WILSON, Protest Liaison Officer (PLO) who was on duty from 2330 to 1030 the next morning, first PLO on the scene. He did most of the liaising with protesters. He did have former experience with this, in London. He described how 2 bamboo structures (BS) had been erected on the roadway, one in each lane. Each had 1 protester hanging in the BS, with a lot of protesters locked on, on the ground underneath. There were two vans with banners with protesters locked on, on top, underneath and inside. There were about 50 protesters on the roadway with about 30 supporting from the side. He used the 5-step appeal process to try to encourage them to move to the side of the road over his 10 hours on duty, without success. He did not wear a body-worn camera because he claims, as PLO, it would discourage open communication.  

Defence cross-examination. His statement was dated 30/9/20, more than 3 weeks after the incident. None of the protesters were described. He called the protesters Groups 1 to 4 (his naming), in 2 BS and 2 vans. He reckoned the BS were ‘precarious’, but they survived until they were removed. He was told they were made specifically for this protest, were load-bearing, so might collapse if mishandled. He did not know that the protest was planned to end at 11am (see below). He did know that Group 3 wanted to see the dawn. There was no organiser in the protest, so no-one could say when the end-point would be.

Def 5 cross-examination. Because he is self-repping, he can cross-examine. Do you believe we have a legal right to protest? Yes. What is Article 10? Freedom of expression, ideas, etc. (after a bit of prompting). Article 11? Freedom of assembly. Is it okay to protest against hate speech? Yes. Do you believe there is a Climate Emergency? Yes. What is it? The warming of the planet, pollution, etc. Is hate speech a crime? No. Is calling immigrants cockroaches a crime? Depends on the situation. That was in Murdoch’s Daily Mail. Should we prevent hate speech? As a police officer I must enforce the law. He used this style on the other PC too.

Inspector Barton. He wrote his statement a week after. He arrived at 10:30pm, was senior until a more senior officer arrived around 2:30am. XR Police Liaison (XRPL) came to him, gave him his mobile number and they communicated that way. XRPL said the protest would finish at 11am, and compromised to 10am. This didn’t suit police: the lorries were due to arrive around 3am for the newspapers, so the obstruction must be away before that. Police would assist in moving protest to the side of the road. This wasn’t accepted. This was midnight, he told XRPL to make arrests if protesters didn’t start clearing the road immediately.

Defence cross-examination. Did you communicate the 11am deadline to your PLO? No, I didn’t communicate specifics with them. You said to move to the side? Yes. If a protester stayed in the road, they would be arrested? Yes. The protest was against the owners of the building? Yes. Racism? No. You were giving News Intl a veto because they were the only ones affected? No, the employees and contractors needed to get in and out. It is a public highway and must stay clear. But it isn’t ‘public’ it goes solely to News Intl? It is public. Did you say to News Intl that the protest would finish at 11am? No. The on-call chief inspector was told by News Intl that it must be clear by 3am for the lorries to access it. An S14 order must be given by the senior officer on site – you. Why did you not give a place for them to protest? The side of the road was ok.

Def 5 cross-examination.  Same as before.

CPS again. Was there another business on that road? Yes, a motor car dealership. Would access have been hindered to that place? Yes, if it went on to 11am.

That finished the CPS prosecution for the moment. The 2 civilian witnesses will appear tomorrow. The court adjourned until tomorrow.


DAY 2 – 11 May

On Monday 10th May, Def 3, part of the group, was held in contempt of Court after glueing himself on, and released under investigation.  He was therefore not allowed into his own trial on Tuesday. There was a mass walk out by the other 5 defendants in support of him but finally the trial went ahead.

The first witness was Alan Brett who is a manufacturing director at Newsprint. The majority of employees get to work by car and the group therefore stopped people getting in and out of the premises. Many had to get taxis home. No emergency vehicles used the road that night. Pedestrian access was still available.

Def 1 was part of the Broxbourne 6 group which blocked the entrance. She was on one of the lorries blocking the entrance. She was not locked on. They wanted to block a single news cycle and intended to leave at 11am. She received warnings but didn’t leave. Her speech was clear, intelligent and eloquent. ‘Democracy is worth fighting for’. 3 news agencies control the press. The protest was proportionate. Independent press is a sham. Pritti Patel and Rupert Murdoch met up 2 weeks after this protest. The press and the Government are in bed together.

Def 3 was part of the Broxbourne 6 group which blocked the entrance. He was tied into one of the bamboo structures and came down at 11am. His speech was most powerful. He has a Masters in Physics, specialising in climate physics. We are heading towards catastrophe to 4.5 degrees. Life will not be sustainable. The media, particularly Murdoch, has consistently given voice to climate sceptics and sown the seeds of doubt in science, the facts of which are indisputable. IPSO have not done their job. There will be 1 billion refugees by 2050. Therefore, the action he took for the protest was proportionate.

Def 6 was part of the Broxbourne 6 group which blocked the entrance. He arrived at 10pm and positioned himself in one of the bamboo structures.  He was asked to leave once but did not come down until 11am the next day. In his speech he said that the media was concentrated among 4 millionaires who hold much too much power. It would be a dereliction of duty not to try and inform people of the climate emergency.  

Def 2 was part of the Broxbourne 6 group which blocked the entrance. She was on one of the lorries blocking the entrance. She was not locked on.  They wanted to block a single news cycle and intended to leave at 11am. To the best of her knowledge she was not asked to leave by the police.  It was a symbolic protest and they wanted to get publicity for the climate crisis which they did. It was front page news for once. There is a lack of truth telling by the media. She talked of the impending refugee crisis. Three years ago she worked in Calais with refugees.

Def 5 was part of the Broxbourne 6 group which blocked the entrance. He climbed on to the top of the van at 10pm and stayed until 11am the next day. There was no interaction with the police at any time. Apart from Def 1 who was asked to come down, all of the defendants said there was no interaction with the police. Def 5 did question Alan Brett as above but didn’t make much headway. Does he know how many meetings Boris has had with Murdoch? No.  Newsprint met with ministers 206 times. Rupert Murdoch has pretty much decreed who should be Prime Minister and wields too much power and influence. 200 species are disappearing every day.  


DAY 4 – 21 MAY

Def 4 decided to dismiss his defence lawyer (Raj) and represent himself on this last day which meant that we had 3 closing speeches: a legal one from Raj Chad, and two very passionate ones from the defendants who were representing themselves. This provided an effective combination of law and passion. 


Prosecution closing speech

The prosecution tried to make this a simple open and shut case: the defendants illegally blocked the road causing disruption and financial loss to ordinary people as well as to Rupert Murdoch and were therefore guilty as charged. Anticipating the use of Ziegler by the defence, he pointed out that the press action was substantially longer in duration (11 hours) than was the one in the Ziegler case (2 hours). 


Defence closing speech

The defence argued that the Ziegler case (2019) had established that causing disruption was a legitimate form of protest and that stopping somebody from doing what you are protesting against is valid. He argued that the prosecution needed to prove that:

1. There was an obstruction.

2. It was a public highway.

3. It was wilful.

4. There was no excuse or lawful authority to carry out the obstruction. 


As 1 to 3 were not in question, it came down to 4 - no excuse or authority. For this to be valid, the prosecution had to prove that the disruption caused was excessive and that the interference in the protesters right to protest under ECHR by the police was proportionate. As neither was the case, he argued, a not-guilty verdict was the only one available to the judge. 


Def 4’s closing speech

He first corrected the prosecution’s assertions that the blockade could have stopped emergency vehicles from reaching a patient at the site, by explaining that he could have been off the bamboo frame in less than 2 minutes. He went on to state that social reform was always preceeded by protest and used the example of the Suffragettes and Gandhi. He asked what effect they would have had if their protests had not been disruptive. He pointed out that at 25 years old, his future had been robbed and that children were dying now from air pollution in Britain. He asked whether the judge would choose to punish those who raised the alarm or those who did the actual damage and asked the court if they could look their children in the eyes and say they did the right thing. 


The judge’s ruling

The judge ruled that:

• Each case was fact specific.

• The prosecution must prove all elements of the offence.

• The duration of the process, at 11 hours, was a significant amount of time.

• Other people beyond the press were affected.

• It wasn’t just a few old people who still read physical papers so many people were impacted. 

• The court is not able to allow for rightness of cause.

• The interference in the protest by the police was at the end, so the defendants’ right to protest was protected. 

• The defendants did not exercise their right to protest lawfully as the disruption was excessive.


The defence pointed out that the starting point for sentencing should be guided by Hoffman and asked for conditional discharges.


The prosecution asked for £1,500 of costs and £5,000 of compensation based on £1m of losses! The judge said that compensation was not appropriate because there was no breakdown of the figure and no indication of where the figure came from. 


The judge noted:

• The passion with which the defendants had given evidence and made their closing statements.

• The protest was peaceful.

• There was no abuse or obstruction of the police.

Was defence evidence submitted in writing?

Skeleton argument was submitted

Did defence witness(es) give evidence in person? Were they cross-examined?

Yes.  Raj questioned the defendants he was representing. They all said they were acting out of necessity.

Def 2 who was self-representing gave evidence in person. 

Def 3 was not allowed back into the court

The CPS didn’t question any of them as the facts are were not disputed.  

What was the verdict,
sentence, costs?

All were GUILTY

Def 1 -- £150 fine, £34 victim surcharge, £150 costs.

Def 2 --£200 fine, £34 victim surcharge, £150 costs

Def  3-- 12-month conditional discharge, £22 victim surcharge, £150 costs.

Def 4 – 12-month conditional discharge, £22 victim surcharge, £150 costs.

Def 5 – 12-month conditional discharge, £22 victim surcharge, £150 court costs

Def 6 - £150 fine, £34 victim surcharge, £150 costs.

Please add anything else relevant.

The judge made a point of saying that the Disobey in the Dock action on the first day of the trial had no bearing on the verdict.