Laing Four Freed
Conditional Discharge for Crane Climbers
Squall 10, Summer 1995, pg. 24.
The first road protesters in the country to be charged under the Criminal Justice Act, the so-called 'Laing four’, finally came to trial on April 11th and 12th.
The four defendants were all activists from Manchester Earth First! and were arrested after occupying a crane belonging to Laing construction company on the Oxford Road, Manchester, with a banner saying “The CJB won’t stop me!” on the day the CJB became law, last November 4th.
At that time, Laing were bidding for a contract to build sections of the M65 development near Blackburn. Although a number of other protesters were released with a caution, the four defendants were all charged with two offences under the CJA: ‘Aggravated Trespass’, and failing to obey a senior police officer.
The defendants, Pete, Paul, Chris and Oli all pleaded not guilty to both charges. They put up a spirited defence based on the requirement for the prosecution to show that not only did the protesters obstruct work on the site, but also that thy intended to obstruct work.
The defendants claimed they only ever intended to demonstrate against the CJA and to force a statement from Laing on the environmental impact of the M65 development, and they never intended to stop the crane from working.
For some reason the magistrate never looked entirely convinced by this explanation of events. But, to be fair, he never looked entirely convinced by the police’s version of events either, especially their explanation of how the protesters came to believe that they would not be charged under the CJA when they came down.
Eventually the four were all declared guilty. They were given a conditional discharge, should they be found guilty of another offence in the next year they could still receive a sentence for the protest.
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