Friday 10, February 2012
Anti-capitalist protestor found guilty of aggravated trespass
AN ANTI-CAPITALIST protestor who dressed as a 'greedy banker' was convicted of aggravated trespass after failing to leave a Barclays branch despite being asked three times by a police officer, reports Todd Fitzgerald.
Helen Pike, 40, was fined £150 and must pay £250 costs after being found guilty of the offence which took place on November 5 last year.
Ms Pike, of Woodlawn Court, Whalley Range, entered Barclays Bank on Market Street with three other demonstrators wielding placards. They stood silently in the window, donning bowler hats and fake moustaches.
In an outburst after the hearing at Manchester Magistrates Court, Pike addressed the bench to applause from the public gallery: “I’m very proud of what I did, despite the outcome,” she said.
Magistrates judged Pike was guilty of trespass with the intent to disrupt business and to intimidate and obstruct those ‘going about their lawful business.’
The defence, led by Miss Nicola Hall, said that Pike’s intention had not been to intimidate staff or customers, but merely to ‘highlight the fact that the bank had evaded income tax’ in a peaceful protest.
She argued the silent and static protest was a ‘civil matter’ and that police had no basis to order them to leave.
The protest was described as a ‘carefully organised piece of performance art’. Pike claimed that it aimed to engage the public in their message, not to disrupt it.
The prosecution, led by Mr Paul Darnborough, successfully argued that the trespass was more than simply a civil matter.
In his opening comments, he said: “We have to put everything else out of our minds. It is not about the heartfelt nature of this case. Ms Pike attended the bank and committed a trespass with the intent to obstruct, intimidate and disrupt.
“She was given the direction by police officers to leave and she did not.”
Mr Darnborough urged magistrates to concentrate on whether the trespass, which was not disputed in itself, was 'aggravated'.
Pike said the group stood in the window of the bank rather than outside to ensure ‘visually high impact’.
They aimed to attract members of the public to gather outside, where leaflets were being handed out.
Branch manager Daniel Besser said that his staff felt ‘unsettled’ and that
the protest caused the branch to suffer disrupted service.
The branch was forced to bottle-neck customers coming in, and eventually had to close on a busy afternoon.
Mr Besser said: “I felt my hand was forced to close the doors. We had to limit access to the bank and customers felt intimidated.”
Ms Pike said it was the bank closing which caused the disruption, not the protest. She said: “The atmosphere seemed fined until the bank started limiting access.”
Chairman of Magistrates Mrs Debbie Matthews returned the court’s verdict after an hour of deliberation. Pike was told the protest affected the bank's business and that the public were sufficiently hindered and intimidated.
Mrs Matthews said: “This protest could have easily been done, with the same impact, outside the bank.
"The fact that it was inside is what constitutes the reasonable belief of the officer and this court that it was in fact aggravated trespass.”
Pike’s family and friends crowded the gallery as the final session ended and were shocked at the verdict.
Pike was ordered to pay a total of £450, payable at £5 per week.
Outside court, Pike said she wasn’t surprised at the verdict.
She said: “I think it’s a really sad verdict, all I was doing was protesting peacefully. The magistrates have come down in favour of protecting the banks who have brought this country to its knees.”
The small crowd then cheered as one friend held his arm around her and said: "Here's your first fiver."
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