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Inquiry call after video evidence clears London-Gaza protester


Simon Hattenstone and Matthew Taylor, The Guardian
25 March 2010

Lawyers say police delayed releasing footage that undermined case against man accused of disorder at Israeli embassy

Lawyers have called for an inquiry into the prosecution of a man accused of violent disorder at demonstrations after claiming that the police delayed releasing vital video footage which proved his innocence.

The case against Jake Smith was dropped at Isleworth crown court yesterday when the prosecution barrister said a review of video evidence "very much undermined" their case.


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He was originally accused of two counts of violent disorder at two separate protests outside the Israeli embassy in January last year. Police submitted video evidence to support their case, which they said showed Smith throwing a stick in one case and pushing barricades towards police lines in another.

However outside court Smith's lawyers said the police and prosecutors had failed to provide vital video footage for more than a year that showed Smith being hit by officers with batons and shields.

"The police presented a wholly false picture of my client," said Matt Foot, of solicitors Birnberg Pierce. "What the police initially showed of my client's involvement in the demonstration was a cut and paste job, and it is only with persistence that you get to see the true picture at the police station two days before the case is due to be heard. You can't ambush an innocent man like that."



Youtube video shows Jake Smith protecting
his head as he is hit repeatedly by the
police with their batons and shields and
then him falling to the ground.

Foot said the crucial evidence showing the police attacking Smith only came to light by chance when his client came across a video clip on YouTube which appeared to show him being beaten by officers in riot gear.

Despite this Foot said the Metropolitan police denied they had any more footage of Smith from the demonstration for more than a year. On the last working day before the trial was due to take place he was told they had seven and a half hours of footage which might be relevant.

After hours of searching the police archive Smith's legal team found footage of his client pushing the barricades – and moments before of him being beaten by the police.

"There is no way I would have found this unless we hadn't stumbled across the YouTube footage," said Foot.

I had no idea the police could behave like that. They were spitting at me, beating me on the head, and I would have been the one doing three years in jail if I'd been found guilty. Where's the justice in that?

Jake Smith, Gaza protester


He also found footage that the court heard proved Smith could not have thrown the stick.

"It shows that the man who threw the stick ran away – and the camera then pans forward to show Smith still marching with the demonstration holding a Love Jews, Condemn Israel placard," said Foot.

Yesterday, Karen Robinson, prosecuting, said the crown was dropping the case against Smith because, in one case, the video evidence had been reviewed and found to be of "insufficient quality" and in the second instance new footage had been uncovered which "very much undermined" the prosecution's case.

Defending, Nick Wrack said the police had only released partial evidence and the new footage showed Smith had been the subject of a "violent attack".

Outside the court Foot said both police and prosecutors had questions to answer about the way the case was handled.

"The police released only partial and selective data until the 11th hour and until that point the prosecution didn't allow us access to the data so they are equally culpable," he said.

The demonstrations against the Israeli invasion of Gaza held outside the Israeli embassy resulted in more than 70 people being arrested, the vast majority Muslims. Campaigners have claimed that offenders have been treated harshly by the police and the courts. Smith was one of the minority of those charged who pleaded not guilty.

After the case against him collapsed Smith, a journalism student at the time of the demonstration, said he was "relieved but angry.

"I've been on bail for more than a year and it's really messed up my life. I had no idea the police could behave like that. They were spitting at me, beating me on the head, and I would have been the one doing three years in jail if I'd been found guilty. Where's the justice in that?"

Foot said he would be writing to the Independent Police Complaints Commission to call for an independent inquiry into the way the video evidence in the case had been handled.

Kris Venkatasami, district crown prosecutor for Isleworth and Kingston, insisted that the CPS had not withheld any evidence. Today he said: "The case against Jake Smith was discontinued when further evidence was made available to the prosecution which had only been drawn to our attention by the police three months after Mr Smith was charged. This video footage, which had not previously been seen by the CPS, supported a contention that Mr Smith may have acted in self-defence. Accordingly there was no longer a realistic prospect of conviction.

"The Crown Prosecution Service did not withhold any evidence from the defence team. All footage which was marked by the police as relevant to the case was made available to the defence from the early stages of the prosecution. The section of footage in question was not brought to our attention as relevant to the case and so it was not disclosed until after we received the defence case statement. At this point it was made available at the earliest opportunity."

A spokesman for the Metropolitan police said: "When police received the defence statement they reviewed the video footage. Based upon the new information disclosed, they identified an incident that was captured on police video footage. This was then offered to the defence as part of the ongoing process of disclosure. On the basis of this new evidence the prosecution offered no evidence."


Video is also available at : http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/video/2010/mar/24/protest-police

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/mar/25/israel-embassy-gaza-protest-video


Charges dropped against Gaza protester Jake Smith


Siân Ruddick, Socialist Worker
27 March 2010

In a fantastic victory today, charges of violent disorder were dropped against 24 year old Gaza protester Jake Smith.

Jake’s trial at Iselworth Crown Court was due to start today, but the prosecution offered no evidence against him and the case was dropped.

He has been charged that he attacked police on 3 and 10 January 2009 while he was protesting against Israel’s onslaught on the people of Gaza.

So many of the people being charged from the Gaza protests were convinced to plead guilty and many have been given jail sentences. After my case it makes me wonder what evidence the police really had against these people. If only they had fought the charges perhaps they could have blown more holes through the police cases. Legal teams really need to look at how the police treat protesters and encourage their clients to fight against the charges..

Jake Smith, Gaza protester


“I am elated,” Jake told Socialist Worker. “I’ve spent the last year thinking that I may go to prison.”

“It’s been a nightmare. I’ve suffered from depression and I’ve been unable to get a job. I haven’t even been able to see my family when I want to.

Jake was expecting to serve anything up to three years in prison, found guilty for a crime he has always said he didn’t commit.

“The police said they had footage showing me attacking them, but I’ve always said it wasn’t me. I’ve never attacked the police.

“They thought they could get away with it but I was lucky. I’ve had a fantastic defence team that encouraged me to fight the charges.

“No one hears about the way the police behaved on the demonstrations—it was disgusting. They weighed in with batons and shields. The level of violence towards ordinary people was really shocking.

“So many of the people being charged from the Gaza protests were convinced to plead guilty and many have been given jail sentences.

“After my case it makes me wonder what evidence the police really had against these people. If only they had fought the charges perhaps they could have blown more holes through the police cases.

What has happened hasn’t deterred me from demonstrating and having a political movement around me really helped me keep going. We need to keep taking to the streets to make our voices heard now more than ever. We have to fight for the right to protest—generations before us fought for it and we have to make sure we don’t lose the right. The police case against me has fallen apart. That is not enough. We need to join together and fight for justice for all protesters.

Jake Smith, Gaza protester


“Legal teams really need to look at how the police treat protesters and encourage their clients to fight against the charges.

He also spoke about the need to unite the defendants. “The police and the courts like to treat each case individually and take the politics out of the situation. We have to stop them from doing that.

“The prosecution kept talking about us being part of anti Israeli demonstrations. That’s not right. We were protesting against the assault on Gaza. We all watched every day as hundreds of children lay dead or injured, as people were being slaughtered.

“Thousands of people across the country came out in support. Even the UN has talked about war crimes committed by the Israeli state against the people of Gaza.

“I think that the police have to be held to account for their treatment of protesters. The police want to demonise people who come out to protest, especially people in the Muslim community.

“Now I want to sue the police for unlawful arrest, stress and brutality.

“The actions of the police need to be exposed—look at the G20 protests, they have learnt nothing. We have to challenge the police at every opportunity—they have to be accountable.

“What has happened hasn’t deterred me from demonstrating and having a political movement around me really helped me keep going.

“We need to keep taking to the streets to make our voices heard now more than ever.

“We have to fight for the right to protest—generations before us fought for it and we have to make sure we don’t lose the right.

“The police case against me has fallen apart. That is not enough. We need to join together and fight for justice for all protesters.”

Source: http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=20714


Gaza protester freed from prison


Siân Ruddick, Socialist Worker
27 March 2010

Gaza protester Layla Lahouidek walked free from prison today after a hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice. She has also had her sentence dramatically reduced.

Layla was originally jailed for 15 months for violent disorder after taking part in the demonstrations for Gaza in January last year. She plead guilty in West London magistrates court in October last year.

But she had strong grounds for appeal after Miriam Hamid, a young woman also involved in the same incident in Starbucks on Shaftsbury Avenue, was given a 12 month prison sentence, suspended for 12 months.

In the court this morning the judge said that the disparity between the sentences would give concern to an average person.

It is on these grounds that Layla was immediately released from prison and will be able to return home to her family today.

Layla has found her time in prison very difficult and has been moved around several times. Her last prison was in Bristol, meaning that her family had to drive for three hours in order to see her.

This is a significant step forward in the campaign for justice for all of the Gaza protesters.

It comes after all charges were dropped against Jake Smith yesterday.

A protest will be held outside Isleworth Crown court tomorrow morning at 9.30am in solidarity with those being sentenced.

Source: http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=20717


A glimmer of hope for the London-Gaza protesters


Dr Hanan Chehata, Middle East Monitor
26 March 2010

All charges were dropped against 24 year old protester Jake Smith yesterday in Isleworth Crown Court after it emerged that the police had withheld crucial CCTV footage which could have exonerated him at a much earlier stage. The prosecution held onto the footage for 14 months and only released an extra seven and a half hours worth of video evidence to his legal team the day before his trial was due to take place, hidden amongst which were a few vital seconds of exculpatory evidence. Jake had been charged with two counts of violent disorder which included moving a police barricade during the protests, but what the withheld footage has now revealed was him being hit repeatedly by the police with their batons and shields and then him falling to the ground only 37 seconds before he moved the barrier, which he said he did for his own protection.

This is a very important development as it is one which calls into question the fundamental way that all of the protest cases have been handled thus far. From the very beginning there have been widespread criticisms that the arrests and prosecutions discriminatorily focused on young British Muslim men. While it is true that Jake was one of the very few non-Muslims to be arrested, it is a promising development nonetheless. Many of the protesters that MEMO have spoken to over the last few months have complained that the police footage that was used to build the prosecution's case against them was unjustly selective and only showed the few seconds where they may have thrown something, for example, but did not show the prolonged police aggression and brutality against themselves and the rest of the protesters beforehand. Some have argued that they were directly reacting to police provocation and some were actively trying to defend other people in the crowd who had allegedly been manhandled or hit by the riot police.

The way in which the prosecution has handled the protest cases calls into serious question the legitimacy of all of the cases heard thus far. If the previous cases are anything to go by, Jake Smith was only hours away from being undeservedly sentenced to an extremely harsh and disproportionate custodial sentence. If such a miscarriage of justice has been found to exist in one case, it seems wise to suggest that all of the other protest cases should also be thoroughly reviewed. These protest cases have already had a devastating impact on the lives of the protesters and their families. Most of the protesters were very young men who were of previously excellent character and had extremely bright futures ahead of them; futures that it now seems may have been blighted because of a deliberate prosecutorial misrepresentation of the facts as they occurred on the days of the protests.

Not only have the sentences handed down already been lambasted as grossly disproportionate by parliamentarians, academics and members of the public but they have also been criticised for not taking the police behaviour during the protests into account. This includes complaints about the police use of "kettling" the crowds as well as the physical abuse of peacefully protesting members of the public. This latest development further supports that point and shows that the police did indeed provoke the crowd on many occasion by attacking unarmed members of the public without due cause.

Each of the protesters who have already been sentenced should now take this into account when making decisions about their appeals and those who have cases pending should also re-evaluate their positions. What these young protesters and their families have already gone through is, in the vast majority of the cases, totally unfair and unwarranted. The protesters have already been handled in an extremely heavy-handed manner, from the police dawn raids taking place months after the protests, to Judge Dennis's apparent disregard for their mitigating circumstances and now, in light of the latest development, the withholding of vital exculpatory evidence as well.

Jake's case is not the first bit of good news for the protesters recently. London-Gaza protester Layla Lahovidek walked free from the Royal Courts of Justice yesterday after the judge held that her original 15 months custodial sentence was unjust. This was the conclusion he came to after considering how disparate her sentence was compared to that of Miriam Hamid who was only given a twelve months suspended sentence for her part in the same incident in Starbucks.

Let us now hope that these developments are the beginning of a new trend in these protest cases in which it is justice that is to be served and not simply a wider political agenda.

Source: http://www.middleeastmonitor.org.uk/news/europe/831-a-glimmer-of-hope-for-the-london-gaza-protesters


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