Police dropped violent disorder charges against protester Jake Smith on Wednesday of last week.
He faced charges of violent disorder after demonstrating against Israel’s assault on Gaza in January last year.
And on Thursday, Layla Lahouidek, another protester, won her appeal against the 15-month jail sentence given to her in January, which she was serving.
These are important victories. But it wasn’t all good news.
Judge Denniss handed down prison sentences to more young people on Friday of last week. Among them are Scott McPherson and Kalaf Hussein, who were both sentenced to two years in separate hearings.
Jake was originally accused of two counts of violent disorder at two separate protests in January last year against Israel’s attack on Gaza.
He pleaded not guilty.
As Jake sat in the dock at Isleworth Crown Court last week, the prosecutor said, “A review of the footage revealed an episode that could not be a realistic basis for a conviction. A decision has been taken to offer no evidence.”
Judge Jonathan Lowen accepted this. It was then the turn of barrister Nick Wrack, acting for Jake, to make his comments.
Wrack told the court, “I need to clarify for the court the reasons that lie behind the crown’s decision.”
Judge Lowen silenced him, saying: “I will not allow it. I note the large body of press in court and the court will not be used for wider political purpose. I will not hear you.”
Wrack managed to say, “You have been told coyly and cryptically that an episode occurred on the 10th that is shown in the CCTV evidence.
“That episode was a violent attack on Jake Smith.”
Judge Lowen’s pronouncement about “wider purposes” stands in contrast to Judge Denniss’s comments about other Gaza protesters.
When sentencing defendants who pled guilty, he noted that his comments were suitable for the press and should reach “the widest possible audience” to act as a “deterrence”.
Jake was awarded £170 for travelling costs. There is no compensation scheme in the court for loss of earnings, stress or anxiety.
Jake feels victorious and relieved. But he is determined that the police don’t get away with treating him and others in this way.
He told Socialist Worker, “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.
“The way police treated demonstrators that day was disgusting. They weighed in with batons and shields. The level of violence towards ordinary people was really shocking.”
Layla Lahouidek, aged 19, won an appeal in the Royal Courts of Justice on Thursday of last week.
Layla was given a 15-month jail sentence in January this year after pleading guilty to violent disorder.
At a later hearing, Miriam Hamid who was involved in the same incident, was given a 12-month suspended prison sentence.
This gave Layla grounds for appeal. It took three judges just ten minutes to decide to grant Layla the same sentence as Miriam. Layla walked free that day.
All of those now in prison pled guilty to violent disorder.
Of those who have pled not guilty, two have been found innocent after trial, and two have had their charges dropped.
It is a tragedy that so many young people have been sent to prison.
But Jake and Layla’s cases show that it is possible to fight—and we must intensify the fight to win justice for all of the Gaza protesters.
‘Shocking’ use of video evidence
Matt Foot, Jake Smith’s solicitor, spoke to Socialist Worker just after the police announced they would not present any evidence in the case.
“This is a shocking case,” he said. “On charges relating to 3 January, it is inconceivable that the police were unaware that the footage they had showed Jake was not the person running out of the crowd and throwing a stick.
“They had two clips showing him walking down Pall Mall with a large and very distinctive homemade placard when that incident was supposed to have taken place.
“Concerning 10 January, police had footage of officers assaulting Jake and leaving him lying on the ground. This was never provided to the defence. We only managed to see it through persistence.
“We are going to be calling for an independent investigation into the way the police and the prosecution dealt with the video evidence.”
Go to www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/mar/25/israel-embassy-gaza-protest-video for more on why Jake’s case collapsed