'My experience shows why the Police and Crime Bill is so dangerous'

One of the 'Barclaycard Six' writes about his experience of being arrested following the protest in Northampton

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The government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is currently making its way through parliament. The proposals have proved controversial with possible changes to how protests are policed causing the most concern for many.

The plans have led to people taking to the streets across the UK with campaigners arguing the police already have sufficient powers to control public gatherings.

Amnesty International has warned that “such an enormous and unprecedented extension of policing powers would put too much power in the hands of the state, to effectively ban peaceful protests should they see fit.” The organisation went on to say that “excessive force by the police at recent protests highlights precisely why parliament must not grant further powers.” 

Last year, six people were arrested after a protest at the headquarters of Barclaycard in Northampton - it was another 16 months before their case reached court. Today one of the so-called ‘Barclaycard Six’ writes for NN Journal about his experience and how it shows the Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill is a frightening prospect.

By Marly Lyman 

On February 26th 2020, I entered the Barclaycard Headquarters at Brackmills in Northampton shortly ahead of a group of peaceful protestors. I began a live stream to capture the protest that was about to occur and witnessed two individuals spray water-based “fake oil” onto the giant “Barclays” sign in the foyer of the HQ. 

The World Health Organisation attributes “at least 150,000” deaths a year to Climate Change and expects that figure to double before the end of the decade - this doesn’t take into account deaths through other fossil fuel related issues including, but not limited to, poor air quality or polluted waterways. Barclays remain the largest investors in fossil fuels in Europe and Sixth largest in the world and have actually doubled their investments throughout the duration of the coronavirus pandemic. 

I gave a live commentary on the video, based on my understanding of why this protest was taking place. I witnessed a calm and curious environment in which staff were more interested in what was happening than fearful of the act. Indeed, many stood around laughing and filming on their phones.

So how is it that I came to be arrested, have my house raided, my property seized, be kept in a cell for thirty-four hours and be charged with criminal damage? There is something much bigger going on here, and it’s a very frightening prospect.

In recent months we have watched as the UK Home Office, lead by Priti Patel, makes totally unfounded claims about the proportionality of actions undertaken by peaceful activists - even to the point of referring to such groups as Extinction Rebellion or Black Lives Matter as “Organised Criminal Groups”. 

The attempts to implement a new policing bill (Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Bill), which suggests that marching in a street or banging a drum in defiance of the authorities is a worse offence than many violent crimes, is another shameful example of the attempts of our government to silence opposition. Of course, they’ve bundled these draconian policies together with policies that many might well agree with in order to shame those who oppose the bill in whole or in part.

Sitting in a police cell for 34 hours was hard. By the end of the day I’d read the National Geographic magazine - which staff gave me - cover-to-cover multiple times and I now know everything there is to know about the Easter Island statues. I couldn’t sleep through the night due to the sound of someone screaming and banging throughout. The third time I was offered vegan chilli with no rice or bread was too much to stomach, but the fourth time I was too hungry not to eat. 

Pacing the room in full knowledge that I was innocent undoubtedly had an effect on my mental health - all the while hearing talk of a potential pandemic from the security staff. I was devastated when they extended my imprisonment beyond the 24 hour maximum and couldn’t understand how they had that authority, especially since I had told the officer at Barclaycard that I was a freelance videographer.

Last week, 16 months after my time in that cell, I was found not guilty of criminal damage following a gruelling two-day trial. Among my co-defendants were two who rolled out banners and spoke to onlookers to ensure they were not fearful and one who handed out a folder full of news reports and scientific research on climate change. These were also deemed not to be criminal acts and the defendants were found not guilty. The two who sprayed the fake oil were found guilty of criminal damage and were given court fees and fines - no compensation was awarded to Barclays.

It’s important to note that, while the outcome in court was somewhat favourable, the very fact that the police are already empowered to arrest peaceful protesters for handing out leaflets or rolling out banners - or indeed a freelance videographer for reporting on the protest - is frightening in a so-called democracy. This is just one part of the reason why we must join together to oppose the proposed policing bill and Priti Patel’s attempts to silence our democratic human right to oppose injustice. 

Not many could put it better than Mira Hammad, the barrister representing me in court.

“There is a word for states where you can be convicted for simply supporting, encouraging or filming protests, they are called police states. We do not live in one. We live in a democratic society which respects our right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.”