Eight anti-cuts protesters arrested in Fortnum and Mason last year have today (23 March) been found not guilty in the Westminster Magistrates’ Court.
The surprise verdict throws into doubt the conviction of 19 other protesters who took part in the same campaigning action on 26 March 2011. Today's defendants were the third group facing identical charges. The first two groups have already been found guilty.
The protest had been organised by the group UK Uncut. They had been seeking to highlight alleged tax avoidance of £10 million by Fortnum and Mason’s parent company, Whittington Investments.
One hundred and forty five people who took part were arrested outside the store. Most had charges dropped, but twenty-seven have been brought to trial.
“The judge today recognised our legitimate right to protest,” said defendant Stephen Reid, “He listened carefully to the evidence, and we’re delighted that he found us not guilty”.
But Reid added, “It is absurd that other people who did exactly the same as us were found guilty while we weren’t”.
Labour MP John McDonnell said he was very pleased by the result. He added, “It's critical that the guilty verdicts on the other protestors are overturned”.
The first two groups of defendants are appealing their cases to the High Court and the Crown Court respectively.
UK Uncut have said that they will not allow the court proceedings to deter them from taking peaceful direct action. After the verdict, Stephen Reid insisted, “We will continue our fight to ensure that the wealthiest pay their fair share of tax”.