Freedom News

Activist spends 76 hours wrongfully detained – when will the police be held to account?

HS2 Activist has been released after being held on remand for 76 hours at HMP Dovegate, Staffordshire. He was wrongfully arrested on breach of bail, which he was cleared of on Monday 14th March. This is an extremely long time to be held without cause and is unusual compared with the treatment of white protestors. Activists wish to highlight that unlawful policing of HS2 protests are leading to restrictive bail conditions which prevent lawful protest. They also wish to highlight the racism underpinning our policing and criminal justice systems and the fact that protestors of the global majority experience harsher penalties for protesting.

Satchel was arrested for breach of bail at 12pm Friday 11th March whilst he was lawfully protesting outside the gate of an unmarked HS2 compound on the public highway. He was targeted by HS2 staff at a site near Swynnerton in Staffordshire. Satchel is a protestor of Caribbean heritage and has been subject to restrictive bail conditions since he was arrested in October 2020 during the eviction of Jones Hill Wood anti-HS2 protest camp. This eviction has since been proved to be illegal and all other defendants have had their charges and bail conditions dropped. However, Satchel has been prevented for almost two years from engaging in peaceful and lawful protest against HS2 due to these bail conditions. This weekend he was wrongfully detained after being accused of breaking his bail. The prosecution were seeking to have him remanded until his court date in June. This would have been the longest time a HS2 protestor has been held in custody – even though Satchel has not been convicted of any offences and had not broken his bail.

There have been over 400 arrests made throughout the duration of the HS2 campaign, of which only 10 actual convictions have been made. Protestors have been subjected to violence and highly disproportionate policing, particularly from Thames Valley Police. Protestors say that disproportionate policing and un-lawful arrests have been used to give protestors restrictive bail conditions to prevent them from taking part in lawful protest – even though almost all charges haven’t led to conviction. 

Mark Kier tells us, “In excess of 400 arrests, only 10 convictions and even those are being appealed. The prosecution are getting really desperate to make some convictions, to avoid their exposure of harassing protestors and un-lawul arrests and their dismissal of democracy. Bloody-mindedness on behalf of Thames Valley Police is certainly not new to us, but this move against a previous target who happens to be black must raise serious questions.”

Satchel was subjected to poor treatment throughout the weekend. He was not given the opportunity to speak to his solicitor until 9am on Saturday before his court hearing, despite being held in custody since 12pm on Friday. This was both stressful and meant he and his solicitor had very little time to prepare his defence. He was denied bail by the Magistrate until his second court hearing on Monday 14th in Aylesbury Crown Court and sent to HMP Dovegate, despite being of no risk to the public. He was strip searched in his cell on Sunday night with no explanation. When Satchel enquired with the desk sergeant whether this was routine, he looked shocked and confirmed is not routine practice for new prisoners. This shows Satchel was singled our for this treatment. 20 people turned up at Aylesbury Crown Court throughout the day to support Satchel however miscommunication between the prison and courts meant that no one knew where he was and were told his hearing was being cancelled. This meant no one was there to support Satchel during the hearing and the demo outside the court was effectively disbanded. 

Satchel has said, “My treatment over the weekend only goes further to highlight the institutional prejudice and incompetence at every level of the policing and judicial system. Paperwork was lost at almost every opportunity. I wasn’t even meant to be in prison yet my stay was prolonged due to administrative errors. I was subjected to 24 hour lock up for 3 days, humiliating treatment including an unwarranted strip search and my support network were treated as a nuisance for trying to find out what was happening to me – and all this to find that I haven’t even broken my bail. At the end of this there is no apology and only dubious bureaucratic processes to challenge my treatment. How many more unjust cases in the prison system are there like mine that simply never get heard?”

Satchel is a committed PGM (person of global majority) activist who has been involved in campaigns against HS2 and the new Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill. Satchel has been subjected to racism from police and the criminal justice system. In October 2020, The Guardian reported on an incident where he was thrown to the ground and had is back and neck knelt on during a peaceful protest. He was arrested and the charges later dropped. He is the only protestor still on bail for charges from the Jones Hill eviction, and was the only protestor of the global majority. It is deeply worrying that protestors can already be held in custody in this way – but made all the more disturbing in the context of the new Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill, which seeks to further criminalise protestors and will lead to further cases such as these, with people of the global majority suffering most. 

Many people have came out in support of Satchel. On Sunday 13th March, there was a noise demo outside HMP Dovegate, Staffordshire. Protestors created a wall of noise to let Satchel know that they support him. They also let the police and prison staff know they oppose his arrest and detainment and feel Satchel has been treated differently because of his race. A member of the public appeared to tell the police how she felt about the police arresting a HS2 protestor in light of the links between Russian Oligarchs and HS2. She told police, ’You haven’t defended the public. You haven’t defended anything else. You’ve defended Oligarchs with blood of children on their hands!’ Her point is pertinent as the British Government are coming under increasing pressure to sanction Russian Oligarchs and cut their ties with British business. Satchel points out that private business profit from the detainment of people of some of the most vulnerable people in society – whether it is through prisons or immigration detainment centres. He points out that HMP Dovegate is run by Serco – a private company which also runs detention centres and profits from the detainment of asylum seekers. The new Nationality and Borders Bill currently going through parliament proposing to criminalise those seeking asylum mean those arriving in the UK through unofficial routes will receive custodial sentences – which will further play into the profits of companies like Serco.

Satchel says, “This experience has shown me clearly that people in prison have been failed. I stand in solidarity with prisoners failed by the educational and social care systems, those wrongfully arrested and all those seeking refuge – whether they be from the Global South, the Middle East or Europe. I strongly oppose their exploitation for private financial gain and commodification of their suffering that is all too often spun into a vote winning exercise by the political elite.”

Keep up to date with HS2 protests at Bluebell Woods Protection Camp page