The next time I set foot in Britain I’m likely to be arrested at the airport and whisked away in a police van to be held in a station cell prior to an appearance in court the next day, charged with the offence of being an ‘Absconder’. ‘Absconding’ means not reporting to sign in at the police station while on bail, or not turning up in court on the appointed date to face trial. I fall into the latter category.
I faithfully fulfilled the first conditions after my arrest in November last year, reporting daily between 1200-1400 at London’s Charing Cross Police Station to sign my name. The reason why I had to do this was given as “This male has no real community ties to this area, and he has lived in a tent since July 2011.”
I even turned up for the first court hearing of my case at Westminster Magistrates Court on the 23rd of November. I was charged with offence shown below:
Use threatening words/behaviour to cause harassment alarm or distress
On 13/11/2011 at Parliament Square, London SW1 used threatening abusive or insulting words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby
CONTRARY TO SECTION 5(1) AND (6) OF THE PUBLIC ORDER ACT 1986
Since I denied the charges and pleaded not guilty the Magistrate called for the trial proper to be held on January 16th 2012, at which I was expected to attend. I had other plans. I wasn’t about to sit around in London for 2 months freezing my ass off in a little tent, scrounging dumpsters for food, when I had just enough money to get back to Istanbul where I had a roof over my head and the promise of a part time job. As far as I was concerned my five month holiday in my native country was over. I slipped the coop and absconded.
I would have gone back for the hearing, but back in Turkey I quickly realised that my financial situation meant a return ticket to London would leave me totally broke. Excludıng the possibility of being found guilty and faced with a money fine, which I would refuse to pay anyway, it basically meant prison or destitution in England. I didn’t fancy either, so I didn’t go back. Am I now a refugee, facing persecution in my own country?
A couple of days ago while sorting out some jumbled drawers I came across a wadge of greenish pages linked together with a yellow string. It was labelled DEFENCE FILE and contained all the details about my case. I hadn’t looked at before. I must have just chucked it the drawer and forgotten it. Reading it I found the witness statements of the police officers very interesting in style, almost Ortonesque. You know, Joe Orton, English playwright
Anyway, I decided to copy them out and share them with you. I’ve added paragraphs, as the words were all handwritten photocopies from small police notebooks. I left spelling and punctuation as found.
Let them tell the story!
Statement of Niel Gribbin
“On Sunday 13/11/21 I was on Parliament Square for the REMEMBRANCE DAY PARADE when during the 2 MINUTES SILENCE at 11 00 hours I heard a male clearly shouting “No More War”. I feel very angry at this and very dissapointed. I believe he is welcome to his freedom of speech but not during the mark of respect. ——- I am happy to help police in any way. ———- “
Statement of David Cole
Occupation: Police Officer
“Delay in making notes due to arranging and being transported from Parliament Square to Marylebone Police Station. ————
On Sunday 13th September 2011 I was on duty in full uniform in charge of Senal 1001 deployed to Parliament Square for the national service of Remembrance at the cenotaph. The service of Remembrance is an annual event held at the cenotaph in which the nation pays respect to our service men and women who have given their lives in two world wars and subsequent conflicts. It is an event which is attended by the Queen and other members of the Royal family, the Prime Minister, senior politicians, the military, diplomats from around the world. There are also 10 000 members of the public who come to watch the veterans march past. It is an event that to the many 1000’s who attend is very emotional, as there are many who have lost relatives, friends during these conflicts. Against this background my senal was deployed to search the static demonstration in Parliament Square and the other tents. This is to ensure that no devices had been hidden in the tents that could cause an explosion. Once the searches had been completed we were to remain in the area to deal with any possible disruptions to the Service of Remembrance. During the briefing of the officers I explained that wewould facilitate their right to demonstrate, however if we recieved complaints of their behaviour we would deal with the incident.
At about 10.55 am I was standing at the corner of Parliament Square and Wesminster Bridge with PC CHEAVEAU. The crowds had built up and were 3 or 4 deep at the barriers. There were veterans, tourists, relatives. At 11 o’clock BIG BEN sounded the start of the two minute silence. The whole area fell silent you could hear a pin drop. Suddenly from behind me I heard a male voice shout 3 or 4 times “Stop the war. No more war.” It was very loud and audible from where I was standing. I turned along with a number of people in the crowd. I started to walk quickly towards where the shouting had come from. As I approached someone from the crowd shouted “Shut the prick up.” Others were looking visibly distressed that the two minute silence had been interrupted.
As I approached PSDA Prato who was standing by a tent a man I now know to be MR NEIL GRIBBIN approached and said “Let me talk to him and what are you going to do about that.” He was clearly angry. I said “Give your details to my colleage and if you are prepared to make a statement I will deal with the matter.” I then went over to the tent and PS DA Prato identified to me a male in the tent I now know to be Mr Michael Dickenson. I asked him to come out of the tent. I said I respect your right to free speech but what you have done has caused offence. I am arresting you for Section 5 Public Order Act and cautioned him. I then explained that his arrest was necessary for a prompt and effective investigation so that he could be interviewed on tape to prove or disprove his involvement in the offence. This was at 11.05 am. He then tried to go to his tent so I took hold of his arm when he tensed up and insisted on going to his tent I then requested PC Cheaveau assist in putting the cuffs on. I then heard a round of applause and looked up and saw around 20 people. I then took him to Carriage Gate at the enterance to the House of Parliament. Once inside I said “Have you got permission to demonstrate?” He replied “What demonstration?” I then further arrested him at 11.07 am for taking part in an unauthorised demonstration to which he replied “If there’s war I don’t need to demonstrate.” Because of the road closures I went over to the far end of Parliament Square to asist in getting the van to come and collect Mr Dickenson. ……..
As far as I am concerned there are only two people authorised to demonstrate and he is not one of them. The other permanent demonstrator has a condition on her protest of being 3 metres x 1 metre. Mr Dickenson’s tent was at the opposite end of the scaleance to hers so clearly outside the size condition. “
Statement of Louise Da Prato
Occupation: Police Officer
“On SUNDAY 13TH NOVEMBER 2011 I was on duty in uniform with serial 1001. We were posted to the Peace Camp area of Parliament Square. Our deplyment commenced at about 0745 where we met with POLSA officers who were tasked to search the tents and area of the Peace Camp. This was completed without incident. Later, I was patrolling the area at the South East corner of Parliament Square. At a few minutes to 11 o’clock I positioned myself in the centre of the road there. Most of the crowds of people were in front of me. They were mainly turned facing the cenotaph as the various military bands were playing music and the service at the cenotaph was about to get underway.
Behind me the Peace Camp was situated. The members of the peace camp were either in their tents or on chairs on the footpath. Other members of the public were milling around or standing facing the cenotaph. At 11 o’clock Big Ben marked the beginning of 2 minutes silence. On the toll of the eleventh strike of the bell all was very quiet.
A few seconds later about 5 to 10 seconds I heard a loud cry from behind me. It was a loud male voice calling out accross the silence words which I heard as “Stop the War.” I turned in the direction of the shout. I saw a male at the bottom end of the peace camp with his hands cupped round his mouth. His head was tilted up towards the sky. His hands created a sound tunnel and he called out loudly a second third and fourth time. He used the same or very similar words to the first call: “Stop the War.”
I started walking calmly but swiftly toward him after he called out a second time. He was wearing a blue top, he was tall and a lean buid with greying hair. As I approached this man who later gave his details as Mr Michael Dickinson born 07/03/1950 of the blue tent at the South west corner of Parliament Sq. I was aware members of the public were still observing the silence, there standing facing the cenotaph in silence. As I passed one or two shook their heads and looked at me then closed their eyes. I interpreted this as a communication of annoyance with the man who had shouted. When Mr Dickinson shouted for the final time he then got back inside his tent. I went to the tent and stood outside for a few seconds observing the final moments of the remembrance silence. When the 2 minutes concluded I leaned into the tent and spoke with Mr Dickinson. I asked him what he had done and also stated I felt he had disrespected others rights to observe the silence. Mr Dickinson told me he felt it was his right to shout out “Stop the War.” He said to me he felt everyone needed to wake up, and he had to say it. Mr Dickinson also said that God had told him to do it.
I was aware of some movement behind me and looked round. There were some people on the edge of the pavement who were starting to move around after the 2 minute silence. I heard some say that’s disgusting and one or two people were gesturing toward Mr Dickinson’s tent. I then became aware of another member of the public who appeared annoyed and upset; his face was flushed and his arm movements, raising his arms up to about half elevation then dropping them to his sides with some force suggested the anger and annoyance. I saw him approach PS David Cole 32R and speak with him. A moment or two later PS Cole joined me at Mr Dickinson’s tent. PS Cole told Mr Dickinson to get out of his tent. At 1105 hours I heard PS Cole explain to Mr Dickinson that a member of the public had complained about his behaviour and had been caused distress by his actions. At 1105 hrs PS Cole arrested and cautioned Mr Dickinson. I did not hear what Mr Dickinson said in reply.
I called for a van and cell space via the GT control room. Mr Dickinson was then taken to the other side of the street to the Carriage Gate of the houses of Parliament where officers waited with him for the van to arrive. I closed up Mr Dickinson’s tent by zipper. Soon after this I spoke with Mr Dickinson who asked for his bag which contained some paintings and some water. I did not however, return to his tent to get these things. I did however tell Mr Dickinson he would get water if he wished once in custody. I completed some notes at scene but Mr Dickinson was not able to sign as he was in handcuffs. The van arrived and I was aware that Mr Dickinson was transported to DM custody.”
Statement of David Cheaveau
Occupation: Police Officer
“On SUNDAY 13TH NOVEMBER 2011 I was on duty in full uniform on Police Aid; serial 1001. Whilst observing the two (2) minute silence, I was standing on the south east side of Parliament Square. Big Ben had sounded for the eleventh time at 1100 hours, the crowd consisting of thousands of people paid their respects in silence. After approximately twenty (20) seconds I heard a male voice coming from the peace camp shout out “STOP THE WAR, NO MORE WAR”. He repeated this three or four times, shouting loudly as the crowd was silent. I immediately began walking over the where I heard the voice come from and I heard someone shout “SHUT THE PRICK UP”. “———-“
In the South west corner of Parliament Square I saw —– talking to an 1CI male now known to be MICHAEL DICKINSON. He was six foot tall wearing black clothing top to bottom and had white stubble. I stood back and observed the crowd. I was approached by a member of the public wearing a dark suit with medals strapped to his breast pocket. He was clearly distressed by what he had heard and said to me “LET ME TALK TO HIM,” as well as “WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT THAT?” The member of public said this in an angry tone and he was obviously affected by what had happened the way he immediately walked over to where the shout had originated whilst the whole crowd stayed still. PS COLE 32 RO then went and spoke to this male.
I walked over to where PS DA PRATO was standing next to MICHAEL DICKINSON. Shortly afterwards, PS COLE 32 RO came over to where we were standing and in the full presence and hearing of DICKINSON, arrested him stating the full offences, grounds, reasons for the arrest and the caution.
I saw that PS COLE 32 RO went to place handcuffs on the male. Immediately as he did so, DICKINSON completely tensed up his left arm and kept trying to reach towards his tent. Because he was tensed up it made it very difficult for PS COLE to place the handcuffs on him. Consequently I quickly handcuffed his left wrist, before handcuffing his right wrist in a back to back position. Handcuffs checked for tightness and double locked immediately.
As I handcuffed him members of the public cheered and clapped. Handcuff ref. 962. I handcuffed him as he had resisted PS COLE’S initial attempts to handcuff him, and I feared given the potential volatile nature of the situation, he may try to become violent.
Male was held by the carriage gates in the Palaces of Westminster, and taken in a caged van to Marlebone Police Station where his detention was authorised. Van was checked before and after the journey for the presence of illegal substances.”
If you want my version of the story, you can read it here. http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/11/15/shout/
Alexander Cockburn commented at the time: “I have to say, I liked the 2-minute silence and wold have been irked by MD’s bellowing. In the fifties, traffic would stop at 11 am.”
To which I replied: “Irked, perhaps, but not ‘harrassed, alarmed, and distressed’?”
And you, the jury? Your verdict?
Are you ‘harrassed, alarmed and distressed’ by these words?
“NO MORE WAR”?
Do you really find them “threatening, abusive and insulting”? Or even worse, “impossible”.
Michael Dickinson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org