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Woollard student sentenced to over two years for acting recklessly at demonstration

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Today Southwark Crown Court sentenced 18 year old sixth form student, Edward Woollard, to over two years in prison for his action at one of the many demonstrations against the planned rise in tuition fees which took place toward the latter part of 2010. Did this 18 year old, commit involuntary manslaughter?  Did he steal documents crucial to national security? Perhaps, GBH? No, stupidly and recklessly, he dropped a fire extinguisher from the top of a building, the consequence of which, was a depressurised fire extinguisher lying used and useless on one of London’s pavements.

 This particular demonstration saw 40,000 student protesters gathered inside and outside Tory party HQ in London, and was relatively peaceful in comparison to the demonstrations which were to follow. Namely the demonstrations of 9th/10th December 2010, which saw the son of former Pink Floyd band member, Charlie Gilmour, swinging from Whitehall War Memorial ‘The Glorious Dead’; and Prince Charles and Camilla being attacked in Regent Street whilst travelling close to the planned protest on their way to the London Palladium. These actions, apart from being attacks on the national identity of Britain, caused very real damage in the form of emotional distress, whilst Camilla was physically harmed when one demonstrator chose to poke her with a stick through her slightly open window.

 If the actions of Charlie Gilmour can be forgiven and forgotten with a written apology, dismissed as drunken youthfulness where no one was hurt; why are the actions of Edward Woollard met with a two year and eight month prison sentence? Important elements of criminal law are causation and intention, Edward Woollard did not cause any harm, and by his own admission had aimed the fire extinguisher into a gap in the crowd, not wishing to hurt anyone. However, it cannot be doubted that his action carried with it a very high chance of causing harm, and Edward Woollard has admitted he felt guilty after the act.

 But are we now to prosecute for attempted GBH? No, but it seems that politically motivated sentences are ever present. Not that the Conservative party MPs were stopped from carrying out their duties as a result of being denied access to their headquarters for a day. They simply scuttled over to Liberal Democrats HQ; and no doubt the musical chairs that ensued saw the minority party, the Lib Dems, being usurped from their desks to run and get the coffee. But this judgment, in the words of Judge Geoffrey Rivlin QC sentencing, is a ‘very clear message to anyone minded to behave in this way that an offence of this seriousness will not be tolerated’. It seems to me, the offence Edward Woollard committed was to put people’s physical well-being in danger whilst they are exercising their democratic right to protest.

 In 2009, a policeman was filmed pushing over a newspaper seller who was unfortunate to walk home via the G20 protests. This paper seller, Ian Tomlinson, consequently died. In July 2010 it was announced that the police officer who physically assaulted Mr Tomlinson, which resulted in his death, would not be charged. In contrast, the 18 year old student, who acted recklessly, but did not intend to physically harm anyone, and in fact didn’t, is to spend over two years in jail.

 The police are yet to apprehend, and the courts are yet to sentence the attackers of Prince Charles and Camilla. However it is likely that the judgment on Edward Woollard has paved the way for the heavy sentencing of those who act foolishly and in contravention of police tactics at any future demonstrations; perhaps it is the intention to simply deter people from participating in demonstrations full stop.

 I hope that sensibilities prevail and Edward Woollard is released within six to twelve months, otherwise he will find himself leaving prison after 2012 to begin University at a cost upwards of £9,000 per year of study.


Written by speckledhands

January 11, 2011 at 10:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized