Britain: ISR member Karl Debbaut acquitted of assaulting a police officer

ISR member Karl Debbaut acquitted.

On Monday January 26 Karl Debbaut was found not guilty of Assault on a Police Officer at Belmarsh Magistrates court. 8 months ago, on the day the war began, International Socialist Resistance organised a school student strike in Lewisham. The police intervened to stop a local bus carrying students from local schools to the London wide demonstration outside Parliament. When the police decided to forcefully remove the school students from the bus and take them back to school they arrested 6 people and charged three including Karl Debbaut. Now the case has collapsed Karl can tell the full story.

Victory for the right to protest

About 60 school students from three different local schools had come out on the 20th March and joined the ISR protest outside Catford Town Hall. The atmosphere was brilliant.

We then left to join the all London protest outside parliament. We boarded the 185 bus but before the driver could set of the police had ordered him to wait. They proceeded to take the names and telephone numbers of all school students present. When I questioned them about it they insisted on taking my name and asked me how they where supposed to know if I wasn’t a convicted criminal or paedophile. This allegation was confirmed during the court case by an independent witness. Mr Terence Victorin, who testified about the unprofessional police behaviour, confirmed that Police Inspector Chatfield had told him that we were criminals and paedophiles. Although the people in the court where visible shocked and surprised about this neither the judge nor the barrister for the prosecution commented. It was as if the truth about the police behaviour was too reprehensible to mention.

After waiting for half an hour the police had made up their minds about the course of action they would take. Inspector Chatfield, the officer in charge, had decided that it was in the interest of the children to remove them from the bus and send them back to school. Under cross examination he had to admit that he didn’t have any idea if his actions had a lawful basis. "I thought it was in the interest of the children" said Chatfield. Other police constables confirmed this. PC Wells volunteered that she thought the children didn’t have the right to strike or to protest "because they are only children and should be at school". That the Lewisham police took this attitude was crystal clear from what had happened on the day itself. Before they started to take students of the bus it was as if the 185 had turned into the new Kilroy-set, although on a higher political level. All around students where arguing the case against the war, while the police kept accusing them of skiving off school and being truants. If in between repeating "You just want a day off school, don’t you", they had listened to the students, the police-officers might have understood the essence of why this is a war for oil and occupation; and why it is useful to take action against it. Instead the order came to physically remove them. In the course of this the police used force against myself and others and arrested us

"You Nazi bastard, you are worse then Hitler"

The Magistrate dismissed the case because he was not satisfied with the police evidence. The prosecution had failed to produce any proof, apart from the statements of the police themselves, that I had kicked PC Ashdown in the "groin area". No independent witnesses, no statement from the bus drivers, no records from the hospital. The police testimony was grossly overstated and in some cases entirely made up. PC Ashdown claimed that he first thought that he had been stabbed but then realised I had kicked him. Some time was spent claiming that I had insulted the police by shouting abuse at them. ‘You Nazi bastard, you are worse then Hitler" is the best example of police wit but we made a point of explaining that politically we do not agree with the content of this and would therefore not have said it.

Matt Foot, our solicitor, and Tony Metzer, the barrister for the defence, have from the outset questioned what right the police had to remove children from going to a peaceful demonstration. The Magistrate had to agree that the police had failed to use the correct procedure if they wanted to use the truancy laws to stop the school students from striking. This is an extremely important victory for International Socialist Resistance and a possible precedent for students all over the country taking strike action. If young people want to challenge capitalist policy over unwanted wars, tuition fees or rising unemployment collective action is going to be key. International Socialist Resistance has proven it is capable of organising collective action and defending those who take part in it. Every day of this court case, and we have appeared about 9 times in two different courts, the public gallery was full of supporters. We are extremely proud of fighting for this victory and I am extremely proud to be a member of this organisation.

From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales

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January 2004