Activists win damages against City police for false imprisonment

Protesters from Space Hijackers, which campaigns on public space issues, awarded up to £7,000 each after prosecutors drop case.

Eleven activists who took part in G20 protests seven years ago have received more than £60,000 in damages from the City of London police for false imprisonment, assault and breaches of the Human Rights Act. The case has raised serious questions about who owns personal data collected by police.

The protesters, known as the Space Hijackers, took part in the April 2009 protests. The group, which disbanded in 2014, described itself as “anarchitects” who organised various protests highlighting public space issues. Its actions included a party on the Circle line of the underground with a mobile bar and sound system and restoring public benches to spaces they had been removed from.

The 11 activists were charged with impersonating police officers and wearing police uniform with intent to deceive, although the fake police uniforms and fake lorry they used bore very little resemblance to those of real officers.

They were bailed to appear at City of London magistrates court in September 2009. All 11 pleaded not guilty and a trial was scheduled for February 2010.

However, two weeks before the trial, all charges were dropped against them because “there was not enough evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction”.

Each protester has received between £4,650 and £7,050 and an agreement from the police that their names and biometric data would be removed from police records. 

Their solicitor, Susie Labinjoh from the law firm Hodge Jones & Allen, said: “There has been an ongoing wrangle between the arresting forces, Metropolitan police and City of London police as to who was responsible for owning the DNA, fingerprints and photos, ensuring that local records were destroyed and that the police national computer records were deleted. 

“In the end we had to obtain consent to the destruction from both forces as neither could decide who owned the data. It took over 18 months before the records were finally removed.” 

Labinjoh said the arrest of the Space Hijackers was “utterly ridiculous” given that they looked nothing like real police officers. “These arrests were a complete waste of public money and police resources,” she added.

A statement from the Space Hijackers said: “We always refuted these ridiculous claims on the part of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service and invited people to look over the past 10 years of our work, which the police were well aware of, to see that we have a long history of parody, dressing up and winding up the powers that be.”

The commissioner of the City of London police, Ian Dyson, wrote to the 11 activists saying: “I accept the Crown Prosecution Service finding in discontinuing the criminal prosecution against you that there was no longer sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction.

I regret that the standard of the treatment you received from the force [on 1 April 2009] did not meet with your expectations and I am committed to continuously improving the service we provide, to ensure public trust and confidence are maintained.”

Leah Borromeo, a journalist, film-maker and artist who worked with the Space Hijackers and received one of the payouts from the City of London force, said: “The settlement was token and their apology a non-apology.

If they were truly apologetic, then they would not have resisted compensation claims and not dragged out the process over years and they would have actively taken a lead in working out ways to restructure police culture that stamp out the impunity and entitlement with which they act.”

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