I observed Cambridge magistrates courts on the morning of Thursday the 17th of November 2011. I’d gone along as I was expecting to see Mr Jacob Wills and Mr Curtis-Watson appearing in front-of magistrates in relation to charges arising from events in Cambridge during and after a protest against tuition fee rises.
I knew of the hearing as Mr Curtis-Watson had tweeted to tell me when it was happening.
When I arrived in the court building I consulted the lists of cases posted for the day. Neither Mr Curtis-Watson or Mr Wills’ names were on the lists. I wondered if I had got the wrong court so used my phone to check the crown court listings (unlike the magistrates’ these are published online), having seen they were not listed there either I assumed the case was not going to be heard. It was only by chance that a friendly usher, Ex Cllr Armstrong, walked past. I asked her for a copy of the court list; she said she had already given the only spare copy to a journalist. I said had come to see Mr Curtis-Watson and Mr Wills and was surprised to see them not on the list. I was told that the case was to be heard, in court one.
A hint as to why the case was not publicly listed was given prior to the case being called. The court was told that it had previously been listed for court two. On the morning only courts one and three were in operation. No court list for court two was published. It is hard enough to find out when cases are being heard in the magistrates courts, not to even include the names of those due to appear on the public lists is taking the lack of openness with which the courts in Cambridge are run to a new low.
The usher warned magistrates that there were a number of people accompanying Mr Curtis-Watson and Mr Wills. The number of spare seats in the public seating was counted and a solicitor was asked to move to sit elsewhere in the court to make space. Nine people came in with Mr Curtis-Watson and Mr Wills to watch their appearance. I don’t know if others were outside, but the usher’s counting of the spare seats gave me the impression that the number of observers was to be limited to the number of seats available.
Mr Curtis-Watson and Mr Wills stood in the dock and confirmed their names and addresses. As he had done in previous appearances Mr Curtis-Watson gave an address in Littleport. Mr Wills who had previously given his address as Kings College Cambridge gave an address in the N17 postal district, North London.
The prosecutor, on behalf of Cambridgeshire Police, kicked things off. He asked the magistrates to “bind over Mr Wills” and proposed the terms of this binding over being to say that Mr Wills is not to use threatening or abusive words in the presence of people who might feel harassed alarmed or distressed by them. The prosecutor suggested to magistrates that they had the power to impose such a binding over if they were satisfied a breach of the peace had occurred or there was a risk of a breach of the peace in the future. The prosecutor advised magistrates they could not bind Mr Wills over for more than 12 months.
The prosecutor then went on to provide some background to the case. He said that Mr Wills had been involved in a student demonstration against the increase in university tuition fees, in Cambridge, on the 24th of February. He said that Mr Wills involvement followed events in the Grand Arcade and occurred at Kings College. The prosecutor then changed his mind (he was struggling all morning and often didn’t appear to have much idea of the cases he was prosecuting and it looked as if every time he picked up a piece of paper it was all new to him and he was desperately trying to locate relevant sections to read to the court). The prosecutor then told the court that Mr Wills had obstructed a female police constable in the Grand Arcade after a demonstration during which toilet roll was dropped from a first floor balcony. When the female police constable went to speak to protestors and find out what they were doing the prosecutor alleged Mr Wills had held onto her. The prosecutor told the court that the police constable had been forced to take refuge in a shop. Those sitting in the public gallery laughed at this suggestion, apparently finding it incredulous.
The prosecution said the police had then watched the protestors, waiting for some of the group to disperse. The implication was that the police wanted to take some kind of action but felt unable to do it in the presence of forty students and so followed some of the group as they walked to Kings College. The prosecutor, acting on behalf of the police, stated that someone with a radio who the police presumed to be a porter invited them in to Kings College. This prompted more audible incredulity from the public seating. (The college has denied inviting the police in.)
The prosecutor stated that following the police entry to the college an altercation took place during which a Police Constable was “taken down to the ground” and had to use his PAVA spray.
The prosecutor concluded by repeating his request for Magistrates to “bind over” Mr Wills.
Mr Wills’ representative, Mr Green, addressed the court. He said that there had been much discussion with the prosecutors, especially in the last week. The case was down for a one and a half day trial in-front of a district judge. He told the court that the primary matter expected to be discussed in that trial would have been the entry by the police into Kings College. Mr Green noted the public and press interest in the case and shared his view that the manner of the police entry into the college was the key thing generating that interest with the court.
Mr Green explained that the terms of a deal had been worked out with the prosecutor. Mr Wills he said would accept being bound over in relation to the events at the Grand Arcade, in return for the crown offering no evidence in relation to the charges against Mr Wills and Mr Curtis-Watson in respect of alleged events at King’s College.
Mr Green explained that while Mr Wills accepted his involvement in events at the Grand Arcade; absolutely no concessions were being made by either defendant in relation to the alleged events at King’s College.
Mr Green explained this was a joint deal, agreed by both sides. The prosecution confirmed that they “would not be litigating” if Mr Wills was bound over.
Mr Green then told magistrates that Mr Wills had “no means” (ie. no money from which to pay any fines or costs etc.) he said he had just finished his degree and was not physically well, though he hoped to return to higher education. The court was told that Mr Wills lives with friends and doesn’t have to pay rent. Mr Green asked for any binding over to be at the bottom end of the scales allowed.
Magistrates briefly conferred, without leaving the bench, and the chair said:
Mr Wills, I am binding you over to keep the peace.
For six months you must not use any threatening words or behaviour in the presence of anyone who might be harassed alarmed or distressed.
If you break this you will have to pay £100
Do you agree?
Mr Wills said:
The clerk then asked the prosecutor to confirm he had no further evidence to put forward in respect of both of the defendants. (I think she meant either!)
The prosecutor declined and the chair of the bench stated that: “This completes the matter for Mr Wills and Mr Curtis-Watson” she clarified that there were no further matters or action and the pair were free to go. A small round of applause from the public gallery accompanied Mr Wills and Mr Curtis-Watson’s exit from the court room.
No costs were sought, or awarded, against either defendant.
- Justice is far too slow. This case ought to have been dealt with much more rapidly. These individuals have been punished enormously simply by having to wait so long for a conclusion. Mr Wills it appears has had to travel up from London for court appearances.
- I wonder if the police did a deal, all but letting the pair off, because they didn’t want the embarrassment of seeing the notorious PC Hinks called to give evidence in court, or if they didn’t want their actions in entering Kings College called into question?
- Case against students dropped after controversial arrests at King’s College – Cambridge First
- Students walk free from court after protest arrest- Cambridge News