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NETCU - Dodgy World of Protest Exclusion Injections


Cross(ly) examining the dodgy legal world of protest exclusion injunctions
 Article from SchNEWS

"The whole point of the injunctions is to use the veneer of combating extremism to crackdown on legitimate protest. These injunctions have no impact on those committed to illegal courses of action, they're a way of cracking down on the most effective protest movement in the UK" - Dr Max Gastone

Last week the mainstream press and civil liberties organisations took a belated interest in the human rights abuses conducted under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (PHA). An injunction under the act has been used on environmental protestors in Oxfordshire trying to stop the dumping of toxic ash into Radley Lakes (see SchNEWS 573 and www.saveradleylakes.org.uk). It not only bans peaceful protest at the site, but also stops anybody from filming within a mile. When the censure hit press photographer Adrian Arbib, ordered to stop filming by masked security guards, and Channel 4 News couldn't show footage, the implications for freedom of speech finally seemed to register among the Guardianistas.

Ironically, last week was also show-down time for the flagship injunction against Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC see SchNEWS 411). This was the first injunction served on protestors under the PHA, setting the tone for the twenty odd which have followed. After four years of legal wrangling, largely caused by Huntingdon Life Sciences' (HLS) legal team (Judge Holland wryly commented that the 36 ringbinders of evidence presented was "excessive by, say, about 30" - one of the more vicious aspects of the PHA injunctions has been their use to load costs on to unrepresented defendants by wasting court time). HLS did however secure an order against SHAC, and anybody 'acting in concert' with them (at an estimated cost of over a million quid). The order maintains an exclusion zone around the Cambridgeshire HQ. But activist lay attorney-at-law Dr Max Gastone fought a valiant rearguard action by appearing as an unpaid representative for all the unnamed protestors affected by the injunction. Crucially HLS failed to prevent the use of amplified sound during demos (the biggest sticking point for them) and SHAC now have the right to hold a national demo every three months inside the exclusion zone.

Despite this, the injunction still stands; a crucial plank in UK Plc's attack on civil liberties and the right to demonstrate. Injunction-wielding lawyer Timothy Lawson Cruttenden, or TLC as he probably doesn't call himself (see SchNEWS 509), is the man behind the exclusion zones surrounding vivisection labs and arms factories. He's made his living from introducing what amounts to PFI martial law around some of Babylon's more noxious manifestations, pleading over twenty injunctions, banging up activists and attempting to seize their homes along the way. By twisting the Protection from Harassment Act, originally presented as protecting vulnerable people from stalkers (and which he helped draft by the way; now there's an eye for an opportunity), into a charter for corporate repression he's made a tidy pile.

Not content with having written the law, TLC's legal chicanery has become notorious. Stunts include: being warned for re-writing judgements in his favour to secure disclosure from the police; amending particulars of claim (i.e. allegations made against individuals) days before going to court and deluging the court with irrelevant material. This might just be incompetence but it has the knock-on effect of upping the costs of the action meaning that anyone contesting the injunction runs the risk of bankruptcy. Judges have even forced him at times to employ barristers to sort out his messes!

CAUGHT IN THE NETCU

Although supposedly a private lawyer working on behalf of private companies, TLC has had access to swathes of information supposedly restricted for police use. He gets a surprising number of people's names and addresses, mobile phone numbers and previous convictions. At least one activist's personal directory stolen from his home has ended up in TLC's possession. Perhaps this shouldn't be surprising as he works hand in glove with the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordinating Unit (NETCU).

NETCU is the bastard child of such renowned organisations as the Animal Rights National Index (ARNI), the National Public Order Intelligence Unit and Special Branch. They make few bones about their status as political police. Their job is effectively to ensure that protest stays safely ineffective. As their website says, "We support the business and academic sectors, providing a centralised source of information, advice, guidance and liaison on strategies to withstand domestic extremist attacks." Domestic extremism as defined by NETCU means any from of protest outside the law. And as was shown with last week's lengthy prison sentences handed out to Mark and Suzanne Taylor and Teresa Portwine for office occupations and demos (see SchNEWS 580), when it comes to protesting against animal abuse in UK labs there's precious little left that isn't against the law.

Where TLC ends and NETCU begins isn't all that clear - with TLC revealing in one court case that he helps draft the head of NETCU's public statements in a classic Neo-Labour public-private partnership.

Busy Tim also finds time to be a director of Inquire, an organisation dedicated to surveillance and tracing of individuals for corporate clients.

HARASS BANDITS

But unfortunately for TLC and NETCU things are slowly becoming unstuck: the collapse of the injunction at EDO MBM (SchNEWS 531), amid revelations of the unorthodox attitude to legal disclosure, was followed by the utter failure of the injunction by Harrod's to prevent anti-fur protests. More recently, an attempt to bang up the principal spokesmen of the SPEAK campaign, Mel Broughton and Robert Cogswell (campaigning to prevent the building of a university primate research lab), under contempt of court charges failed. It was this which led to Oxford Uni realising that the stress of it all was perhaps getting a bit much for our hapless hero and wisely decided to engage the services of a different firm.

But TLC remains as devious as ever and, still working for lucrative clients Huntingdon Life Sciences, also recently attempted to seize the property of Donald Curry. Donald had been one of those originally named on the first injunction who didn't enter a defence. Like Lynn Sawyer (see SchNEWS 471) this meant the vivisection company were able to get a costs order against him. Unlike with Lynn however, the costs order was never enforced... until Donald got sent to prison. Only then did TLC pounce with an attempt to seize his house, force its sale and leave his wife and three kids homeless.

Despite the difficulties of organising legal support for a category A prisoners, self-taught animal rights lawyers (legal beagles?) sprang into action and were able to prove that TLC's handling of the service of the injunction was so flawed that not only was the costs order against Donald's house dropped but the whole injunction against him was set aside! The sticking point in Donald's case, as ever, was accurate disclosure of TLCs relationship with the police - something he is charmingly coy about. No wonder his clients are leaving in droves.

But other, perhaps more competent, firms are now stepping into the breach and SchNEWS reckons we haven't seen the back of the Harassment Act by a long way...

 

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