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Issue 14 - July 1973
Conspiracy....To Muzzle Dissent
More and more people are slowly becoming aware that over the past two or three years the State has increased its hold, multiplied its powers and strengthened its defences on and against the society it exists to control. An act which, a few years ago, would just have been seen as a token of disrespect is now treated as seriously criminal involving heavier and heavier prison sentences and bigger and bigger fines. Police surveillance - phone tapping, mail opening, people following - and general harassment by the forces of law and order have greatly increased and political trials are becoming almost everyday occurrences. The rights to protest and speak out against the State without fear of reprisal have completely disappeared and for many people freedom of speech and opinion have, in all but theory, ceased to exist.

The 1973 Annual Report of the National Council for Civil Liberties listed some of the pressures the State has introduced or increased in its fight against the rights of the individual. Briefly, the report stated that:
" there has been a transparent allegiance between the government and the judiciary"
" the myth of an unarmed police force has been shattered"
" the criminal law revision committee recommended changes which would have undermined ... the rights of the suspect and the defendant. The slender protection afforded by the Judges Rules - so often anyway ignored by the police - would have been further weakened, the caution abolished and the right to silence limited".

So the State is increasing its powers at the expense of individual liberty. But it is often difficult to follow exactly what is happening due to the almost total lack of media coverage and the poor distribution system of the alternative media groups.

Probably the most successful form of attack the government has so far come up with is the conspiracy law. This law is so vague - and the penalties for falling foul of it so severe - that almost any individual not wanted by the powers that be, can be caught in its grisly net.

A shortened version of the NCCL's definition of the Conspiracy Law follows - "If a person commits an offence alone he is not guilty of conspiracy. But if he agrees with anyone else to do an unlawful act, then they are both guilty of the crime of conspiracy, even if nothing at all is done towards carrying out the agreed act.

"A conspiracy is an agreement between two or more people to do something illegal, or to do something legal by illegal means. It is not even necessary to establish that the act they contemplated was criminal. There are two categories of conspiracy which are criminal even though the agreed object would not be criminal if done by one person alone,
1) conspiracy to commit a civil wrong
2) conspiracy to commit an act which is neither a crime nor a civil wrong, but which can be calculated to 'injure the public'.

"The penalties for conspiracy are a fine or imprisonment. There is no limit. A court can pass a heavier sentence for conspiracy to commit an offence than for the offence itself ..."

The fact that a person doesn't have to commit an offence or break a law before he can be charged with conspiracy has not been overlooked by the police.

So far, five people are serving ten-year prison sentences for crimes neither the police nor the courts could prove they committed. These are Jake Prescott and the four convicted members of the Stoke Newington 8 who were charged with conspiring to cause explosions. These two trials were blatantly political. The fact that Prescott was found not guilty of causing explosions but guilty of conspiracy shows the effectiveness of the charge if the police want to get a conviction. If he'd only been charged with causing explosions he'd have been freed on total lack of evidence. Instead he got 15 years which were later reduced to ten at appeal.

In both trials, not only the total lack of evidence but also the contradictory statement the police and prosecution witnesses gave should have led to dismissal of the cases and arrests of prosecution witnesses and police for perjury, attempting to alter the course of justice etc etc. But these trials weren't criminal. They were political. Prison sentences had to be given and they were. In the Stoke Newington 8 trial one detective admitted that he had altered his notes during the trials to fit in with the evidence already given. Another said that he had planned with another policeman what had happened during the raid which led to the arrests, and fingerprint experts admitted that there were no prints on the guns and explosives the 8 were charged with having possessed. The defendants claimed they had been planted. However, the case wasn't dismissed and four ended up in prison.

So, the State is conspiring against the people it tries to control. Whoever steps out of line stands an ever-increasing chance of getting clobbered with a conspiracy charge. This is aptly shown in the case of Andy Ellsmore, who got in the hair of the police a lot through his work in Agitprop and the Purdie/Prescott and Stoke Newington 8 defence groups. Shortly after the Stoke Newington 8 trial he was arrested and charged with conspiracy. However the jury saw through the farce and he was acquitted.

Juries are the one stumbling block the police face when trying to send people down for crimes they did not commit. So much so in fact that the Criminal Law Revision Committee under the guiding hand of the Chief of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Robert Mark, recommended that the use of juries should be dropped in some courts because they were being fooled 'by clever criminals'. Who's kidding who?

Not only can people be sent to prison for conspiring to commit a crime they did not commit, but people can also be sent to prison for conspiring to commit things which aren't even crimes. It sounds crazy but it's true and when you think about it there's a well thought out political reason behind it.

Over the past two or three years there has been a great increase in activities which - though not illegal - are frowned on by the forces of law and order. Picketing, squatting and sit-in demonstrations are three examples. Up until a few months ago no criminal proceeding could be taken against people indulging in such activities and this was proving a real pain in the neck to the police and the government. A lot of bad publicity has come the government's way through homeless families squatting in long-empty houses, and industry's way through people staging sit-ins in the foreign embassies and consulates in London. But conspiracy came to their aid.

To conspire is criminal. Squatting, trespassing and picketing isn't. However, conspiracy to squat, trespass and picket is criminal. So vanloads of squatters, trespassers (Sierra Leone students charged with conspiracy to trespass) and picketers (as in the case of 24 building workers in Shrewsbury) are now arriving in court accused of conspiracy ... and remember, the sentence or fine for conspiracy is unlimited. Peter Hain was charged with conspiring to disrupt the tours of South Africa sports teams in this country, and International Times was charged with conspiracy to corrupt public morals and conspiring to outrage public decency. Hain was acquitted but IT convicted and the verdict upheld in the appeal court. What was it IT did? They published homosexual adverts. They were found guilty of conspiracy even though homosexuality isn't a crime. But on the second count, after much argument as to whether the crime did in fact exist, IT were acquitted although it is still possible to be charged with this offence. Thus whereas before a work had to 'deprave and corrupt' it is now a criminal offence to publish or even agree to publish anything that in which the tiniest piece could cause offence.

With more and more conspiracy charges being brought before the court more and more legal precedents are being set. These precedents have far-reaching implications. If you charge a group for conspiring to trespass, after they had a sit-in at an embassy and the defendants are found guilty, this doesn't only mean that holding sit-ins in embassies is now a criminal act, it means that trespass is a criminal act - as long as at least two people do it.

So it's very obvious that the conspiracy law has the capabilities (and has gone a long way to realise them) to do away with every right and liberty we have. It's the main weapon in the law and order forces arsenal.

But conspiracy isn't the only weapon, used by the government against those of us who feel we aren't living in a utopia. A court case a couple of months ago set precedents that went a long way towards annihilating the rights of the defendant facing politically motivated charges to have a trial bearing any resemblance whatsoever to a fair and just (sic) one.

This happened in the trial of Tony Soares who was charged with attempting to incite people in 'Grassroots', a black community newspaper. During this trial the judge accepted the prosecution's argument that defence witnesses should be quizzed on their political beliefs to see if they were radical militants because, if they were, then it would be probable that they would lie in order to help Tony. The police of course helped the judge to carry out his decision by producing documents and letters showing how militant the witnesses were, and they produced details of any convictions the defence witnesses had for up to six years previously. So much for the unbiased judgement we are always hearing about.

Hopefully this article has been able to give you a glimpse of what is happening in this sort of justice and democracy called Britain. Everything mentioned has happened in the past two years and many more equally nasty things will happen in the next two. 1984, tyranny, police state, totalitarianism - call it what you want, but it's on us and it'll only get worse unless - oops better not say anything or I'll be up for conspiring to cause trouble and Grumble will be had up for conspiring to publish articles liable to give hernias to the policemen whose job it is to read such dowdy magazines as this.

We'll leave you with this comment from the NCCL: "No aspect of the criminal law of England is more odious than the law of conspiracy ... The vice they introduce is overpowering and intolerable. It is time to amend the law."