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(en) UK, WOMBLES: Analysis of the May Trials

From "petr k" <petr_k@hotmail.com>
Date Sun, 13 Apr 2003 21:49:37 +0200 (CEST)


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> WOMBLES 7: British State 2 - Beating the Spooks in Court - By Russell Miller
For those who do not know the WOMBLES, or White Overalls Movement, is not an
obscure white supremacist sect but a radical attempt to bring to Britain some
of the defiance and spirit of the Italian anarchist autonomists. Taking the
lead from Ya Basta, the Milan based direct action group, a few British
anarchos decided it was about time someone here started standing up to
police intimidation and violence. There is not space here to go into a full
history of the still fledgling pioneers, the point of this essay is to
examine the events of May 2002, in particular the trial of 7 WOMBLES for
various public order offences.[1]

Trick or Treat

Our story begins on 31 October 2001, Halloween night. Having participated
in a demonstration against US war criminal Henry Kissinger 20 or so WOMBLES
had a meeting and then headed toward the West End trick or treating. Many
were dressed in the white paper suit uniform that defines their identity.
At the Kissinger demo the group were observed and photographed by members of
the Met.'s Forward Intelligence Team (FIT), dedicated uniformed surveillance
units who now routinely tail activists in London. Given Kissinger's status
the group may have been monitored in some way throughout the evening lest
they should return to exact some minutia of revolutionary justice on the old
warmonger.[2]

When in Oxford Street one rather rash WOMBLE (Y) decided to give a
two-fingered salute to a passing police carrier. It doesn't take a genius
to predict what happened next. The carrier was part of the Met.'s high
visibility post- September 11 Operation Calm only calm is hardly an apt
description of a van full of police officers at the best of times. A PC
jumped from the van and grabbed Y by the neck forcing him into a shop
doorway. Each side came to the aid of their respective comrades and a few
short minutes later 7 WOMBLES were arrested (W7.) Some damage was caused to
the police carrier as frustration at the police assault was vented on the
bodywork although greater damage was caused as the driver managed to reverse
into a bus.

The Set Up - Timing the Trial

As usual initial charges of violent disorder were reduced to summary only
offences ensuring everyone was denied trial by jury. And so the stage was
set for a typical Magistrates court political trial, police versus
protesters. A trial date of February 11 to 15 was eventually fixed.
However come February the trial date was pushed back, apparently by the
defence and on 20 February a new date was fixed for the first week in May.
The significance of a trial beginning just before and ending just after
Mayday was not lost on anyone. The previous two Maydays had seen major
anti-capitalist demonstrations met by even greater police mobilisations and
Media hysteria.[3] Considerable energy would now have to be devoted to
defending the charges at precisely the time activity for Mayday celebrations
would be at its height. Furthermore those on trial faced the very real
prospect of being scapegoated for any trouble which might occur. By the
simple fixing of a trial date the State ensured key activists were kept
occupied and a possible pacifying influence exerted over others not
immediately at risk of a prison sentence. None could now escape the
conclusion the W7 case was already beyond a routine political trial.
However more was yet to come.

Cherry-placer

Edward Cox, an apparently independent observer who saw everything, signed a
witness statement on 16 February. This is the day after the trial was
originally supposed to finish. Mr. Cox certainly appeared to have seen
everything, everything that is from the police point of view, even down to
use of the phrase "mini-riot" which also appeared in the police officers'
statements. Whoever Mr. Cox was he certainly seemed to have had help when
belatedly writing his statement three months later.

With a Mayday trail date and now a surprise independent witness supporting
the police case it was clear to many of us this was no ordinary fit-up. A
carefully constructed situation now left seven members of a new and
challenging direct action group facing probable prison sentences in a trial
they looked destined to lose. Any criminal lawyer or seasoned activist
knows fighting assault police and public order charges before a Stipendiary
Magistrate (now called District Judges to give them the air of impartiality
and status) against a dozen police witnesses is an uphill struggle at the
best of times. Add to the equation the 'confrontational' politics of the
defendants, the probability of at least some violence over Mayday and the
apparently independent evidence of an onlooker and the more experienced
defendants were mentally preparing themselves for a stretch inside. Weeks
before the trial even the defendants' lawyers had begun talking about an
appeal. The mood was pretty gloomy.

The hopelessness of the situation cannot be over stated since it was almost
certain the trial judge would be the notorious Roger Davis. Resident at
Horseferry Road Davis had dutifully imprisoned numerous Mayday protesters in
the previous two years. It was looking inconceivable the defendants would
get a fair hearing.

Fighting with Your Head

Around this time a few of us began discussing a political defence to this
blatant criminalisation of dissent. As a general rule political defences,
as opposed to legal ones, are a hostage to fortune. Even the best radical
lawyers urge, with good reason, an aggressive and appropriate legal argument
over a directly political one. This is simply because you stand a better
chance, even in a highly political trial, of persuading a court to adopt a
legalistic escape route, should it choose take one, than giving in to
political pressure from the Left. There are very notable exceptions but
these almost always involve jury trials where all is lost from the strictly
legal perspective. The GAndALF and Ploughshares cases are excellent
examples.[4] Were David Shayler a genuine whistle blower his trial would
have been a case in point. The strict liability of the Official Secrets Act
means there is no defence in law when making unauthorised disclosure of
secret material. However Shayler was defending himself and could invite the
jury to say "to hell with the law!" The fact that he failed with such a
perfect opportunity demonstrates the whole case was a sham to improve his
woeful credibility; either that or he is even more inept than he appears.

In the end both the legal and political approaches were pursued. The lawyers
were left to do their job whilst activists did what they do best. If the
State was going to provide such a timely platform the WOMBLES and their
friends were not afraid of exploiting it. A demonstration was called for
people to attend court on Mayday itself and information about the true
agenda behind the trial was disseminated via the usual channels.

Motive

The State had decided to stage a show trial, i.e. one where even the
superficial appearance of impartiality is subordinated to the political
desire for convictions. The danger of the WOMBLES securing greater support
and credence through another symbolic act of defiance against an
increasingly Goliath policing approach to anti-capitalist demonstrations was
too great. The WOMBLES had to be crushed and quickly so that something of
the order and magnitude of what occurs in Italy can never be repeated here.
The symbolic significance of a tiny group padding themselves up to
counteract police violence may not have been fully appreciated within the
anti-capitalist movement but it certainly had by the secret elements within
the British State whose self appointed task it is to manage political
dissent in such a way that nothing ever changes in this island of monarchy
and monetarism. For those naive enough to doubt the importance attached to
such matters by the permanent government [5] I suggest you review the press
coverage of Mayday in the past three years. Aside from calling for use of
CS gas and plastic bullets against demonised protesters, specific
individuals have been singled out for front-page character assassinations.
Whether or not anti-capitalist protesters actually represent a serious
threat to the established order they are undoubtedly a high priority for the
authoritarian state machine.

The continuous move towards greater and greater repression made targeting
the WOMBLES inevitable. [6] The audacity of a bunch of young anarchists dressing
in white, using polystyrene for protection and training together to confront
riot police is something which was never going to go unnoticed. So by April
it became clear the WOMBLES were entering a new phase. The State was going
to teach them there is more to challenging State power than simply
confronting the police on the streets.

Brinkmanship

The political defence strategy started from the premise that this was a
carefully orchestrated State assault. It had begun with police violence and
routine fabrication of charges, then came the carefully selected trial date
and Mr. Cox, finally the dependable Mr. Davis was on hand to pass sentence.
The trial process itself was merely an inconvenient necessity to avoid
everyone perceiving correctly State repression of dissent. So, given the
defendants had no choice but to appear at court as lambs to the slaughter,
there was no question but that they would go down fighting.

The only thing more important than securing convictions against the WOMBLES
was the protection of Secret State assets and practices. This and making
sure it didn't all backfire and turn the defendants into martyrs. A show
trial may be staged in order to obtain a particular result but it must not
be exposed as such lest those naive enough to deny such things occur wake up
to the reality of spook manipulation. If it were to become known or
accepted in Leftist/anarchist circles that MI5 uses long-term assets to set
people up or plants bogus witnesses to give helpful evidence the general
effectiveness of such strategies would be greatly diminished. MI5 always
plays the long game. Most importantly the identity of agents must not be
compromised. Therefore the best prospect of avoiding the spooks trap was to
call their bluff and do our best to expose the whole charade. This was the
thrust of some of the discussions that took place at The Radical Dairy
social centre before the trial in May.[7]

The Retreat - The State Backs Off

At trial each defendant was followed in and around the court by FIT
harassment teams. Officers were even body guarding the prosecutor in the
court room to heighten the tension and portray those in the dock as
dangerous. Predictably the more legalistic approach of seeking greater
disclosure on Mr. Cox was blocked by the court. However this was the last
of the setbacks. The day the trial began the pay off for everyone
maintaining their resolve started to emerge.

For a start the trial judge was not to be Roger Davis after all but a
District Judge brought in specially from Camberwell Magistrates court. Ms.
Tubbs was known to many of the defence team as having a reputation for
fairness and impartiality. Then when all 7 defendants threatened to walk
out unless the FIT intimidation games were stopped, they were (at least
inside the building.) The tension eased just a little in the dock and the
public gallery. However when the prosecution case began laughter replaced
anxiety as the first police witness was decimated by defence counsel.
Without taking anything away from the very professional performance of the
barristers it is clear the first and main police witness was not told of the
change of plan. He began with an arrogance that gradually evaporated into
gibberish as he was abandoned by a curiously disinterested prosecutor.
Unsupported by counsel for the Crown and without a biased judge he didn't
stand much of a chance against seven very able defence advocates.

When Mr. Cox materialised at court we were all interested to note he was a
skinhead, broader than he was tall, with tattoos and weighing about 20
stone.
He certainly did not look like an Oxbridge educated spook but then assets
come in all shapes and sizes.[8] The contrast between Mr. Cox in person and
his witness statement could not have been starker since his written language
read like an over educated graduate pretending to be a bit thick. The
comment: "the officers were concerned about the situation. I would not say
frightened, but they were definitely concerned." is priceless. He also
refers to operating a "Cherryplacer" as opposed to the more common term
cherry picker. But the real surprise was Mr. Cox's anxiety to be fair and
agree with almost everything defence counsel put to him. With a totally
lack lustre performance by prosecuting counsel and further poor police
evidence, by the close of the prosecution case three defendants had been
acquitted and the magistrate left only 4 charges to be answered. Eventually
2 defendants were fined: one for criminal damage to the van and the other
for threatening behaviour; this only because they had both made admissions
in interview.

Remember to Notice When You Win

At the time we were all too delighted to give much thought as to the real
reason for the prosecution's collapse. The whole process had taken a lot
out of people, especially the defendants. The trauma of being fitted up and
facing a possible prison sentence is more than enough to absorb energies
which might otherwise be invested in dissent. No one has to be convicted
for the State to paralyse opposition with draconian prosecutions.

However the case was a tremendous victory. The State's retreat was subtle,
hence our initial myopia, but on reflection it was clear and almost total.
The installation of a more liberal judge was key, as was the prosecutor's
brief to do no more than turn up. To have had Roger Davis play the liberal
would have been incredulous, assuming he is capable of balance, but with Ms.
Tubbs in charge she could be fair and judge the case on evidence rather than
politics. The prosecutor gave up the ghost before the trial began and
presented a very pedestrian case. The police witnesses, who were after all
only a public order serial from Hillingdon, were not informed of the new
agenda and were left high and dry in the box. Ms. Tubbs may have wondered
why she was suddenly called in for such a political trial but no doubt she
didn't get where she is by asking awkward questions of her superiors in the
Lord Chancellor's Department.

Although Mr. Cox did give evidence he helped the defence not the
prosecution.
Were he a plant he must have been in on the switch but it is equally
plausible he was just permitted to tell the truth by a disinterested
prosecutor and an encouraging defence. At the time we all concluded Mr. Cox
must have been genuine after all but then perhaps that is precisely why he
was so cooperative. We don't know and he is not the most important detail.
We had seen through the looking glass and the spooks chose to abandon the
hunt with as much delicacy as possible rather than confirm our suspicions.
All of which proves, as soon as we learn to recognise State conspiracies for
what they are we become stronger and wiser to their games. We must accept
and act on the basis that secret state agendas are operating against us.

What spooked the Spooks?

So exactly why did the State back away from its carefully choreographed
hatchet job on the WOMBLES? Certainly the confidence with which people
responded to the situation created a real danger the show trial could become
a stage from which the WOMBLES would grow. It was precisely the desire to
crush them before they grew that motivated the whole pretence. 200 people,
many in white overalls, demonstrated outside court on 1st May. They were
joined by an equal number of cyclists as Critical Mass peddled in as part of
the annual Mayday activities. It is OK to persecute a small group but only
if no one else cares too much to notice. If they are perceived by many as
being criminalized for having daring and imaginative politics then the whole
thing becomes a big mistake.

No doubt that is part of the answer. However there is also the issue of
spook participation. MI5 and Special Branch were certainly behind the
farce. Who else could arrange the change of judge or tell the prosecutor
not to bother? The question is why did they? The fact is MI5 would not let
the identity of an asset or the nature of their practice be compromised by
any prosecution. Were we closer to the truth than we realised when debating
the fit up at The Dairy?

Lessons

The most obvious lesson is that anyone participating in direct action
requires a degree of discipline. It is one thing to be arrested and
criminalized for doing something to expose the violence of global Capital
but to get six comrades lifted and fitted up for a stupid gesture guaranteed
to land everyone in a fight is inexcusable. The other point to note of
course is not to make admissions in a police interview, you never know the
whole thing may collapse. However, if you have already put yourself
squarely in the frame no amount of political or legal wisdom is going to
prevent the inevitable.

The bigger lesson is that when attacked by the State collective self-defence
is not just politically appropriate it is also the most effective response.
Precisely how to defend yourself may vary according to circumstance but what
the W7 trial demonstrates is that a tiny group with loyalty, judgment and
determination can survive and even grow from persecution. Collectivity is
exactly what distinguishes effective struggle from the purported unity of
the old Left. When has the SWP ever supported anyone arrested on a
demonstration?

Toward Wombling Free

No one should pretend the WOMBLES are anything more than a brave idea at
present. There is not yet the culture or history of revolutionary resistance
in Britain to sustain a movement as strong as Ya Basta in Italy. If the
WOMBLES are to develop they must build a stronger and more mature social
base. Street actions in a State as authoritarian as New Britain are hugely
demanding. Even the most imaginative action will often result in
confronting overwhelming State power in the form of riot police, FIT
intimidation, criminalisation, constant surveillance and psyops. The
physical and emotional commitment is too great for a small number of
activists to engage in prolonged struggle without broader practical support.

All of which brings us to the question of social centres and politics beyond
'actions.' It is no coincidence that the Radical Dairy was at its most
vibrant and successful when it was the hub of a social network focused on
defending the W7. The key is to have the right balance of action and
nurture. This involves recognising the importance of building free social
space as part of action. The space must be dedicated toward collective
struggle in its broadest sense. Everything should be geared to facilitating
growth of genuine human relationships. Trust and loyalty are fundamental
but too often absent because people come to the movement damaged by the
abuse and betrayal which surrounds us all.

Libertarian, laissez faire tolerance in social centres does little to
actively combat abuse. The emphasis is superficial individual freedom
without adequate attention to promoting the evolution of a community cured
of exploitation. A degree of latitude is OK, we have to welcome as we
educate, but we must also carefully and without compromise promote a culture
of total love and revolution. There is room for everyone but only if
everyone contributes to the growth of non-capitalist forms of interaction
and behaviour. Lifestyle politics are not a threat to anything; they are
just a way of pretending you are part of the answer whilst participating in
the abuse.

It is 20 years since Thatcher mounted her very successful counter-revolution
and we are living the consequences. Absurdly we all continue to ignore the
fact that Britain is a very different place since Thatcher smashed organised
Labour in the 1980s. The destruction of the trade union movement,
incomplete but inevitable after the defeat of the Miners in 1985, and the
incorporation of large sections of the working class through mass share and
house ownership are the most tangible aspects of the counter-revolution.
Thatcher restructured Britain for 21st centaury capitalism subordinating
(almost) everything and everyone to the direct rule of global Capital. That
we now live in her legacy of no alternatives conditions our very being. We
continue to resist but must face the fact that we are all contaminated by
the pandemic abuse and exploitation she unleashed.

Capitalist ideology and practice are now so universal in England we are all
compromised by their influence. Ideas and actions which years ago would have
been restrained by a culture born of 200 years of working class resistance
now go almost unquestioned, e.g. individualism (aka egotism.) Furthermore,
the Thatcher generation bread on a diet of ignorance and selfishness
struggle to believe in lofty truths such as justice, love and community
precisely because they have rarely seen them during their lives. Meanwhile
the whole abusive system is sustained by an organic culture of psychic
cannibalism choreographed chiefly through advertising and injected into the
social consciousness via the Media. Mere survival is harder and harder but
without revolutionary spirit survival is meaningless. If we are to grow we
must each do our utmost to heal ourselves and each other. We must
consciously fight the selfish and exploitative tendencies which seek to
pollute our being. Until we all take responsibility for everything we do
and everything everyone around us does we will remain isolated, individual
slaves to the twin gods of State and Capital. Only when we know we are
true, when we can trust each other with our lives, only then will we have a
force to rival our enemies.


NOTES
1) Ya Basta leapt to international prominence after the hugely successful
mobilisation against the IMF in Prague on 26.9.2000. Ya Basta led one of the
three marches that converged on the IMF conference centre forcing delegates
to abandon their attempts at global capitalist management. Rather than
waste energy on the misconceived violence v non-violence debate Ya Basta
simply attempt collective acts of courage and justice.
2) Kissinger was Nixon's foreign policy strategist and was personally
responsible for planning and authorising the coup in Chile (On 11 September
1973 a CIA back military coup removed from power the Socialist Party
government of Salvador Allende and so began an experiment in Monetarist
economics which led to Milton Friedman and 'the Chicago school' gaining the
influence which ultimately masterminded Thatcher and Reagan's neo-Liberal
revolutions in the 1980s.) He also led the 'scorched earth' policy of
defoliation and genocide in South East Asia.
3) See Mayday 2000 In The Media Notes From the Borderland (NFB) 3 and The
Disnformation War Continues NFB 4.
4) Four members of the Green Anarchist collective were prosecuted in 1997 in
a blatant political trial design to punish them for exposing State asset Tim
Hepple as an agent provocateur. The one defendant who refused to be bullied
by his lawyers into abandoning the political defence, i.e. 'it's a spook fit
up,' was severed from the Indictment and acquitted. The others served time
in prison before a successful appeal. (Gagged - The Law July 1998 and NFB 1)
In 1996, a jury at Liverpool crown court acquitted two women charged with
causing £1.5m damage to a Hawk fighter jet at a British Aerospace factory.
The women who smashed up the jet bound for the repressive regime in
Indonesia successfully persuaded a Manchester jury to find them not guilty
on moral grounds even though they admitted the causing the damage. Then in
2001 another Manchester jury acquitted two more peace activists who admitted
trying to disarm a Trident nuclear submarine with an axe! (See Guardian
19.1.01)
5) Permanent Government is an ingenious term to describe the various aspects
of secret state and civil service machinery which runs this country whoever
gets elected to Parliament.
6) Even in the old Imperial World Order, i.e. when US/British supremacism
was based on real power and wealth as opposed to history and manipulation,
the British State was always quick to nullify any seriously revolutionary
group long before they become too popular and powerful to crush with ease.
7) The Radical Dairy was a squatted social centre in Hackney/Stoke
Newington, North London. It suffered acute State attention at this time
(April 2002) including FIT teams filming everyone entering and leaving.
This police intimidation was foiled when one night people came out and
knocked up middle class neighbours to tell them of the political police
tactics. FIT made a hasty retreat when they realized they were ruining
their image with the residents. A few weeks later the TSG (riot police)
turned up with a Detective Superintendent Bob Randall on the flimsy pretext
of a warrant for drugs and unlawful abstraction of electricity. Remarkably
no drugs were found, or planted, but they stole the computer claiming it was
evidence of abstracting electricity (not to look for information about
activists and their plans for Mayday!) Then they had Transco dig up the
pavement and cut the electricity cables ensuring the centre would be denied
electricity permanently. The upturned pavement remains a tiny community
garden dedicated to resisting the political police.
D.Supt. Randall is an interesting character since he claims to be part of
SO6, the Met's fraud squad, but also led the raid on another squat the year
before (the Button Factory in Brixton was raided just before Mayday 2001.)
Presumably the Met is getting coy about identifying its Special Branch and
political units so is using innocuous covers. This accords with the trend
for FIT to appear to have officers from divisional stations rather than
Scotland Yard. They must however be centrally coordinated from somewhere.
And whilst we are on the subject of Met structure the TSG has been
reorganized back into a centralized command structure under the 'U' collar
code rather than its previous separate 5 Areas and codes. This coincides
with the post-J18 (anti-Capitalist Carnival in the City of London on June 18
1999) panic in both the Met and City Force. The police are recognizing the
success of the movement even if others are not.
8) Cox was operating a hydraulic lifting device whilst colleagues put up
Xmas lights. Given this was Oxford Street, a highly public and sensitive
location, only a month after 9/11 he would have to have been vetted and
working for a State approved company.

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