EIGHT PRO-HUNTING campaigners who stormed into the House of Commons during a debate on the Foxhunting Bill were been convicted of public order offences last week – but walked free from court.
The so-called Westminster Eight - who included the pop star Bryan Ferry's son Otis - were found guilty of causing "harassment, alarm or distress" by invading the Commons.
They were convicted by District Judge Timothy Workman after a four-day trial at Bow Street magistrates' court in London. The men each received an 18-month conditional discharge and were ordered to pay £350 costs each.
Ferry, 22, is Master of the South Shropshire hunt and was the main organiser, the court heard. In addition to Ferry and Tomlinson, the other defendants were Luke Tomlinson, 28 a polo player for the England team who had been excused court for one day to play in a match, David Redvers, 34, a horse breeder from Hartpury, Gloucestershire; Richard Wakeham, 36, a surveyor from York; Nicholas Wood, 41, a chef from Lacock, Wiltshire; John Holliday, 42, a huntsman from Ledbury, Herefordshire; Robert Thame, 36, a polo player from Maidenhead, Berkshire; and Andrew Elliott, 43, an auctioneer from Ledbury.
Outside Bow Street magistrates' court in London last week, the men said that they had no regrets.
Nicholas Wood commented: "I would do the same again, but not for 18 months". Fellow protestor, David Redvers, agreed with him.
Ferry, who has previously received a caution for putting pro-hunt stickers in Tony Blair's garden, said: "Maybe there was a slight amount of alarm, but we went out of our way to behave as peacefully as we could."
As reported previously, whilst thousands of pro-hunting campaigners demonstrated outside Westminster on September 15 last year, the men donned builders' outfits, including fluorescent jackets and hard hats, and told police and security guards that they were there to do renovations. After being cleared to go through Parliament's St Stephen's entrance, they dumped their disguises in a committee room and went through a broken security door and down the Ladies Stairwell.
Doorkeepers stopped three of them getting into the chamber but four - including Ferry - emerged from behind the Speaker's chair. Tomlinson ran in from an entrance opposite the Speaker's chair. The men were all wearing white T-shirts that bore the slogan ‘FCUK the Bill’.
One of them said that he sat down on the Government front bench, next to the then Rural Affairs Minister, Alun Michael, and said: "Right ho, let's have a debate then."
In court the protesters claimed it was a peaceful demonstration and there was no intention to intimidate or threaten MPs. Ferry, from Eaton Mascott, Shrewsbury, said: "I had not picked up a plank of wood or anything. It was my way of getting my feelings across so that people would actually listen." He claimed that as he was addressing Mr Michael he was grabbed and "throttled" by a doorkeeper.
Danny Scanlon, a doorkeeper, said he had been kicked by one of the protesters and that, at first, he thought the protest was "some sort of terrorist attack". Mr Scanlon said: "One of them was sitting in the Prime Minister's chair, shouting at the Opposition spokesman. It was utter confusion, chaos and panic. It was bedlam."
Mr Michael told the court he had felt "shocked, angry and affronted" and the situation was "very worrying". Mr Michael, the primary object of the protest, told the trial he was afraid that someone was going to get hurt. However, Kate Hoey, one of the few pro-hunting Labour MPs, had told the court that it was immediately obvious that the men were involved in a peaceful protest.
James Gray, the then Conservative agriculture spokesman, whose speech was interrupted, said he thought the protesters had behaved in a "rather gentlemanly way".
Sir Patrick Cormack, Conservative MP for South Staffordshire at the time of the ‘invasion’, was the only MP who tackled the protesters, calling them "bloody idiots" for what they did.
Judge Workman said the protesters did not cause harassment or distress, but did cause alarm.
Ordering each of the defendants to pay £350 towards prosecution costs, the judge told them:
"Your actions caused disruption to the House of Commons and caused some of those people present alarm.
"To your credit, the incident was brief, there was no violence and those moments of alarm quickly passed. Within a minute or two you were co-operating with the authorities. Although it is unlikely, I want to deter you from offending again."
Several anti-hunt campaigners and MPs bemoaned the ‘leniency’ of the sentence handed down by Mr Workman.
Tony Banks, new Labour peer and former MP who was a prime mover in the campaign to ban hunting with dogs, described Mr Workman’s decision as an outrage.
He said: "He ought to be ashamed of himself. He’s shown the worst example that if you’re middle class, you’re rich and well connected you can get away with it.
"I think the sentence is exceedingly lenient and did not reflect the gravity of the offence. This was a bunch of middle-class thugs led by a spoilt rich kid, a daddy’s boy, who invaded the Commons chamber and should have gone to jail. I would have said the same if they were people who supported a hunt ban."