21 January, 2011
Dozens of young people arrested following the recent student fees protests – including a teenager from Upper Holloway – are facing “exaggerated” charges carrying lengthy prison sentences, lawyers have told the Tribune.
BIRNBERG Peirce solicitor Alastair Lyon, who represents many of the arrested students, said police were confusing “political anger” with “criminality”.
Mr Lyon was speaking following the arrest of a 17-year-old-boy at his home in Upper Holloway on Tuesday.
The teenager was the 57th young person to be arrested for “violent disorder” – a serious charge carrying up to five years’ imprisonment – following the protests outside the Conservative headquarters at Millbank on November 24.
Mr Lyon said: “The prospect of there being serious charges is a very worrying one. There is always a fear in these cases that the police will conflate political anger with criminality and lose sight of what really happened.
“This was no football riot but rather a spontaneous and rowdy demonstration that had wide support throughout the country. To suggest otherwise through exaggerated charges would be an attempt to re-characterise the true events of that day.”
Violent disorder is defined as three or more people threatening unlawful violence that causes fear for personal safety. There are now concerns that anyone present during a scene of violent disorder could be charged under the section 2 of the Public Order Act.
Mr Lyon said: “Some of the charges may be for people who just walked into the building [Conservative HQ]. Now, because of some old nonsense, they will have their lives ruined.”
Lawyers told the Tribune there has been an escalation in violent disorder arrests by Met Police following the Gaza protests in 2009.
Students said they believed the trend is part of “a co-ordinated plan” to deter young people from joining and organising demonstrations in central London.
In January 2009, Gaza demonstrator Yahia Tebani, a former media student at City and Islington College, was sentenced to 12 months in prison after pleading guilty to violent disorder. He had thrown a stick at police from behind a cordon.
Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn described the Gaza sentences, when more than 50 young mainly Muslim men and women received between two and half years, as “totally disproportionate”.
A Met Police spokesman said arrests for “violent disorder” would be determined by the Crown Prosecution Service.