Christian peace campaigner Brian Haw, who maintained a protest against the Iraq war for over 2000 days in Parliament Square, has had a series of charges against him under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act dismissed in the High Court by Judge Quentin Purdy ‚Äì who criticized the way the case had been brought.
It is the latest in a series of embarrassing gaffes by the authorities in the way Mr Haw's long-running demonstration has been handled.
The British government, offended by being reminded of its Iraq actions every time its members entered parliament, passed a special law to render Mr Haw‚Äôs protest illegal ‚Äì one which also severely restricts the right to democratic protest in the vicinity of what has been described as the ‚Äòmother of parliaments‚Äô.
Ruling in Mr Haw's favour, Judge Purdy declared that the conditions imposed on him were invalid because they should have been ordered by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, rather than by a lower rank officer.
It had been alleged that Mr Haw ‚Äútook up too much space‚Äù. The permitted size of an individual demonstration area is 3 metres high by 3 metres wide by one metre deep. His banners and placards went beyond this and could be a danger to passers by, the prosecution alleged. No-one had been injured during the protests. In May 2006 police launched a night raid on the site to seize 90 per cent of his placards, amid accusations of a waste of public money.
An earlier court case against the activist was also dismissed because it was an attempt to make a newly introduced piece of legislation retro-active - though this was reversed on appeal and may now go to the House of Lords.
The prosecution additionally claimed that Mr Haw had not supervised the site of his protest with due "diligence and care" and that there was a fear that terrorists could plant bombs in his possessions, an idea described by his defenders as ‚Äúplainly ludicrous‚Äù.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4‚Äôs Thought for the Day after the news of Mr Haw‚Äôs acquittal, theologian Elaine Storkey said that the law needed to focus on major concerns not trivial ones ‚Äì the point of Jesus‚Äô aphorism about ‚Äústraining out gnats but swallowing camels‚Äù.
She commented: ‚ÄúWhen Jesus chose his vivid image he was not suggesting that the law is unimportant. He was rather pointing to the strange human tendency to become obsessed with most trivial inconsequential detail, whilst great issues of justice, mercy and faithfulness are ignored. And since God is a God of justice and mercy, such obsessions distort truth and misrepresent God's reality in the world.‚Äù
Welcoming Judge Quentin Purdy‚Äôs ruling, she said: ‚ÄúNo camels swallowed here, but a gnat thoroughly strained and spat out.‚Äù
Peace campaigners and other supporters of Mr Haw, and of the right to protest outside the Houses of Parliament in the UK, have expressed delight at the decision.