Wednesday 12 January 2011

Edward Woollard - Political Prisoner?

There's little doubt that the tough 32-month prison sentence handed down to Edward Woollard yesterday was overtly political.

Woollard, you may recall, is the student protester who threw a fire extinguisher off the roof of Millbank Tower during last November's student protest in London. It was a monumentally stupid and reckless act, one that could have seriously injured or killed someone, but there is no getting around the fact is that, fortunately, it didn't. No-one was hurt, Woollard seems genuinely remorseful, he handed himself in to police and he pleaded guilty.

If, however, the 18-year-old had headbutted, punched, kneed and stabbed someone with a screwdriver and then pleaded guilty, like Simon and Anthony Marsh from Bolton who were also sent to prison yesterday, he might have received a very different punishment. The two brothers were given 12-month and eight-month sentences respectively, suspended for 12 months, along with community service, a curfew and a fine.

Or if, like Dylan Powell from Newport, Woollard had punched someone so hard that it resulted in an operation for a fractured skull - and if he had waited like Powell to the day of his trial to enter a guilty plea - then he too might have been given a 12-month suspended prison sentence. Perhaps if he had admitted to punching someone repeatedly in the face and then stamping on their head, like John Toms of Plymouth, he could have also have got away with 120 hours of unpaid work and a 12-week sentence, suspended it for 12 months because of his previously good character.

But Woollard didn't actually hurt anyone. His misfortune was to indulge in his idiotic 'moment of madness' on a day when the Metropolitan Police were deeply humiliated. His punishment wouldn't have been nearly so disproportionate if he wasn't also part of a series of protests that happened to chance upon a Royal limousine and if he hadn't become the target of spluttering tabloid fury.

As Judge Geoffrey Rivlin made clear at Southwark Crown Court yesterday, the length of the sentence was an act of retribution, a deliberate attempt to send a a very political message to anti-cuts protesters that the courts will come down hard on them in future if they 'abuse the right of peaceful protest', which presumably includes refusing to obey the instructions of the police and resisting brutal and violent police tactics.

Our misfortune, therefore - whether we like it or not - is that this appears to make a posh kid from Hampshire the anti-cuts movement's first 'political' prisoner - for an action that, as the video above clearly shows, horrified most of his fellow protesters.

No, he probably wouldn't have been my first choice either...


Anonymous said...

It is a shocking politicised sentencing, more to come no doubt. But this isn't new, poll tax protesters got lengthy sentences also with striking miners during the miners' strike. Also, Gaza demonstrators from 2009.

Tim said...

It's almost as if they have confused what could have happened with what actually did happen.

Are they going to prosecute those police officers who charged the crowd on horseback, based on what could have happened?

What's the difference between hurling a metal container in a reckless manner and riding a large animal in a reckless manner? I cannot see it.

Sending an 18 year old into custody will only appease the vengeful and vindictive.

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