Monthly Archives: September 2012

WHAT’S THE VERDICT?

Last week’s verdict shows that the police and our legal system are unable to protect women who are trying to access a legal, medical sevice from Abort67’s disgraceful intimidation tactics.

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Abort 67’s weekly graphic ‘displays’ are also the bane of the lives of many children, clinic workers, students and local residents. The majority of people in Brighton do not agree that Wistons’ clinic is the appropriate place for Abort67 to air their views. If as they say, they want to change public opinion they should protest in a more general public area.

By standing outside the clinic they are clearly trying to intimidate women and scare them out of considering a termination. This is not freedom of expression, it is oppression. The number of women having terminations in Brighton has not changed, but women are having them later than they did before the protests began.

Abort67 laughably refer to themselves as an ‘educational group’, who are ‘motivated by their concern for women’, when in fact they lie about abortion, saying it causes cancer, mental health problems, infertility, and lifelong guilt. They say that BPAS do not tell people the whole truth about abortion. There is absolutely no evidence to support any of these claims.

Brighton Pro Choice is a group of local people dedicated to stopping this harassment on our streets. Today’s verdict changes nothing.

 

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It can’t be abuse! It is scientific fact!

On day two of the trial, the defence seemed to be focussed mainly on objectivity, subjectivity misogyny, and snuff.

Having heard from five prosecution witnesses the day before, the defence decided to first recall the only one fitting the criterion of possessing a vagina. She was also the one that came last playing Section 5 buzzword bingo, by failing to use the words ‘abusive’ or ‘insulting’ enough in her testimony. This barrister’s brutal cross-examination made her break down in tears, and the judge had to call a ten minute recess as a result. More on that later.

Isn’t it a teecy bit loaded of us to tell you that the defence made a female police officer cry, without much context? Are we trying to influence your emotions? Are we failing to be objective?

Yes. But the defence doesn’t get that. Entirely devoid of the context of location (outside a clinic), timing (when women are perhaps unsure and distressed), and appropriateness (large colour banners on a busy main road, opposite a large 6th form college), the defence repeatedly asserted that Abort67’s ‘displays’ could not possibly constitute ‘abuse’ or be construed as ‘insulting’, as they are scientific fact.

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The defence loves the science bit. Even though the images of dismembered aborted foetuses on the banner may appear ever so slightly larger than they appear to the naked eye, they are ‘truthful’ and show a ‘factual, lawful medical procedure’.

From there the defence made what we would call a leap of faith. A bit like that scene in the Indiana Jones’ film, but less entertaining.

They tell us that ‘an ordinary sensible man [N.B. not an ordinary sensible woman, because according to the defence there’s no such thing] knows what an insult is when he sees it’. Despite this being evident, they give us an example, just in case. Here goes.

If a person is morbidly obese, this is scientific fact. There’s evidence for it and everything. Now if you call this person morbidly obese, that’s not an insult, because you used the science words. This person might be offended, but that’s their problem. It’s objectively, scientifically true, and no insult could be implied because you used the science words. If you call them a fatty though, that’s a whole different ball game because that’s clearly intended to be an insult so it’s a candidate for Section 5. The judge asked ‘Are you quoting from anywhere in particular?’ ‘No sir’, came the reply.

You see, this is the defence’s view, but it’s not subjective, oh no! It’s objective, scientific, common sense that anyone can see. Unless of course you’re a woman (or understand context, which women probably don’t anyway).

Earlier on in the day, the defence almost provoked a mass contempt of court by the public gallery by displaying some of the most incredible misogyny we’ve seen in recent times. He put it to the only female witness that she had got it in for the defendants, and was not able to be objective about the ‘displays’ because she personally found them offensive. Therefore she was not using her reasonable judgement as a police officer as required by law, because this was impossible. Why? Well because she has a womb of course. The defence put it to her ‘It’s not just a woman’s issue? There’s no reason why it might be inappropriate for you to handle this case?’ Cue public gallery core meltdown.

The defence later accused the police of ‘harassment’ of the defendants, and said it was ‘to put it frankly, like Putin’s Russia’.

After a nice long lunch the judge rightly threw out the Section 19 charges. The Crown Prosecution Service made a last ditch attempt to say the officers’ actions weren’t unlawful, as they had a common law right to collect evidence, but the judge sent a clear signal to Sussex Police that they to do need some urgent refresher training on PACE, as none of the officers who gave evidence seemed to know this.

This saw Kathryn move from the dock to the public gallery, as only Andy faces Section 5 charges. We may get to hear from her next week if she gives evidence to support him.

The day finished with the prosecution parading a litany of tabloid snuff before the judge to justify Abort67’s actions. Dead dictators, war victims, all grist for the Abort67 mill. The judge got a bit testy when the defence tried to show him some moving images after all of this, so we think he’d seen enough too. He also denied them the chance to play an audio recording of an animal rights group discussing why they used graphic images, as they were not in court under Section 5 charges. It was fun watching the defence squirm as they tried to think of a good reason to have their evidence admitted, and failed miserably, but it didn’t quite make up for their earlier misogyny-fest.

The case continues.

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DO YOU BELIEVE IN FREEDOM OF SPEECH? DO YOU? DO YOU REALLY?

Our supporters got up bright and early today for a quick but lively demo before the start of Abort 67’s court case, where Kathryn Attwood and Andy Stephenson are charged with public order offences for displaying material that is ‘threatening abusive or insulting’ outside BPAS Wistons clinic in Brighton. It was worth getting out of bed because the Sunday Times sent a photographer, and Andy and Kathryn happily posed for him, basking in their media glory. We cannot lie, we posed too. We even posed together. It was all very civil.

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We headed into Brighton Magistrates’ Court where Abort67’s legal team seemed to get stuck in a temporal anomaly as they opened their cross examination of each prosecution witness with the same machine gun question ‘DO YOU BELIEVE IN FREEDOM OF SPEECH?’

The answer was a ‘yes’ from all witnesses, but it was a qualified ‘yes’ which demanded a context. Worryingly, this answer seemed beyond the lawyers’ comprehension. They live in a monochrome world, devoid of nuance or individual circumstances. It’s a cold world.

In their opening comments they boldly cried ‘freedom of speech to say something inoffensive is no freedom of speech at all’, defending their absolute right to display the most offensive materials in the pusuit of ‘truth’, and their right to offend everybody in the world ever.

The Chief Inspector in charge of policing protests at the time disagreed. He said people who complained were ‘very angry or upset’ and that officers saw the images were ‘frequently leaving people in tears’. He asserted the ‘images went beyond just asking questions and represented disorderly conduct’.

The legal team seemed to suspect some kind of giant police conspiracy against them (we’re sure the evidence for this will come out soon), and they aren’t too impressed with us either. ‘Citizens who are politically opposed to the campaign simply have to say we’re terribly offended and freedom of speech is silenced’.

Abort67’s legal team repeatedly claimed that the witness statements were subjective, as if this were some kind of fault on the witness’s part. They seemed incapable of understanding what Section 5 of the Public Order Act is designed to do, namely protect people from harassment, alarm or distress. Not everybody is alarmed by the same things. We think (but we’re not legal experts) that this might be called subjectivity.

We heard from a delivery driver, who had been moved almost to tears as he waited at the lights on Old Shoreham Road, unable to look away from the (allegedly) 10 week old dismembered aborted foetus, blown up in full colour to 8ft by 4ft, and plastered on the wall outside BPAS’ Wistons clinic. The gruesome image reminded him of his wife’s abortion on medical grounds 25 years ago, and the child he never had. ‘It still upsets me thinking about it. I’m supposed to be a man but it really upset me’ and ‘it rekindled memories that I didn’t want to recall. I had put it behind me.’

The legal team were unmoved by this, offering no condolences, then tried to upset him again by showing him more graphic images of dead babies and mutilated torsoes from other (Palestine) protests. He said the Abort67 image was different. ‘I felt like ripping it down, it really did make me cross, I felt it needed to be taken down. I asked the police what would happen if I did and they said they’d have to arrest me. If the police weren’t there I would have ripped it down.’

The next witness, who was bringing his wife and three month old baby to Wistons’ for a pre-termination check, was given the same frosty treatment. We heard how how seeing the image had left his wife devastated. ‘It caused my partner a great deal of distress. It was a distressing time anyway’. Police officers later testified that he was pale, shaking and on the verge of tears when he came over to them to ask them to take the images down. He said ‘I think it was offensive. I don’t think it’s right. It felt like intimidation.’

We saw nothing of Abort67’s supposed concern for life today in court. Not for the lives of the many people who repeatedly complained to the police of the distress, upset, and alarm caused by Abort67’s ‘displays’. In fact they laughably insisted on the court referring to them not as protesters, but as an ‘educational group’.

The police testimony centred of the allegedly incorrect use of Section 19 of PACE to seize Abort 67’s camcorder and banner. Whilst this seems to highlight a worrying lack of training for some of Sussex Police’s officers, the testimony did at least confirm that Abort67 were filming outside the clinic continuously on the day they were arrested.

The case continues until 18th September.