New Internationalist

‘We are all Alfie Meadows’


When philosophy student Alfie Meadows set out to protest against rising university fees on December 10, 2010 he could never have guessed that by the end of the day he would be close to death.

That day he was hit over the head so hard – allegedly by a police baton – that he needed emergency brain surgery. But when he woke up the nightmare was not over. Not only did he have to fight for his recovery, but against a criminal charge for violent disorder.

His trial began on Monday morning and protesters have gathered outside Kingston Crown Court in London to demand the charges against him be dropped.

‘The right to protest is under attack in this country and the trial of Alfie Meadows is just one striking example of this,’ says Owen Jones, author of Chavs, who is at the court hearing. ‘He could easily have died from his injuries and yet, as ever, there is a failure to hold the Metropolitan Police accountable for their actions on demonstrations.’

Already at least 20 protesters have been imprisoned in a round of deterrent sentencing that followed the student revolt against fees in 2010. These include James Heslip an arts student who was sentenced to 12 months for smashing a window at Millbank, Demi Wilson-Smith who received 10 months for waving a stick and Zenon Mitchell sentenced to 15 months for throwing two flimsy placard sticks.  Alfie, who is in court with a number of other protesters, is being charged with threatening violence that could cause those present at the scene to fear for their safety.

‘Alfie Meadows is one of a large number of young student protesters of good character charged with violent disorder,’ says Matt Foot, a lawyer who has represented many students involved in the protest. ‘This seems to be a blanket policy by the police and prosecution to deal with protesters with one of the most serious offences available.’

But what is even more worrying about the Alfie Meadows case is the use of criminal charges against an alleged victim of police brutality in what could be seen as an attempt to legitimize the initial (alleged) police violence.

‘It seems that a very clear pattern is emerging of people being on a protest, being on the receiving end of police violence and this is followed up by the police arresting them and criminalising them,’ says Hannah Dee, spokesperson for Defend the Right to Protest, which has been supporting Alfie’s cause from day one.

Outside the court, supporters will gather to both protest Alfie’s innocence and – as no one has been charged in connection with his attack – demand those responsible for his injuries are held to account. They will include Marcia Rigg whose brother Sean died in police custody, Merlin Emmanuel – nephew of Smiley Culture who died during a police raid – as well as  protesters who have fallen victim to ‘total policing’, ranging from London Occupiers to pie thrower Jonnie Marbles to UK Uncut activists.

‘The arrogance and brutishness of the Met and CPS show up clearly in the charges against Alfie,’ says Fortnum & Mason Occupier Robert Stearn. ‘Their confident expectation that Alfie can be prosecuted for violence the police committed must not be satisfied. The charges should be dropped; his attacker should be tried.’

These double standards have been linked to a wider attack on protest by the coalition government as it struggles with widespread public opposition to cuts and tries to deal with new forms of protest. This Monday for example, will also see a further ten UK Uncutters face sentencing for their role in the kind of high street occupations that recently forced a retreat from the government over their welfare to work schemes. They are charged with ‘aggravated trespass’.

The suspension of a Cambridge University student Owen Holland last week for reading a dissenting poem to Universities Minister David Willetts suggests that students are now also falling victim to attacks on protests on their own campuses.

Within this environment of criminalizing and punishing dissent in all forms, Alfie’s trial takes on wider significance as it becomes not only about the rights of this single protester, but about the right to protest itself.

‘The trial of Alfie Meadows will shape the future of protest in Britain,’ says Hannah Dee. ‘If the courts convict a protester who narrowly avoided death at the hands of the police on a demonstration they will be sending a clear message that while protesters are to be criminalized the police are above the law.’

Photo of Alfie Meadows by Milena Nova.

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  1. #1 Clive 26 Mar 12

    You forgot to mention that Alfie was hit on the head by a lump of concrete thrown at the Police from behind him.
    You forgot to mention the fire extinguisher thrown at the Police from the roof. You forgot to mention the broken window of Prince Charles' paint spattered car plus the wrecked shops. Etc. Etc.

  2. #2 A Non 26 Mar 12

    I dont doubt that the injuries caused to Alfie Meadows were very very serious. However no proof has ever emerged as to how he was caused his injuries.

    Interestingly Alfie Meadows legal team asked for the IPCC inquiry to be halted until his trial has gone ahead. Call me a cynic but the liklehood is that during said IPCC investigation evidence relating to Alfie Meadows violent disorder charge probably came to light.

    The IPCC would have pieced together his movements on CCTV and through witness statements in order to pin point when he was assaulted. I would guess this is how he has come to be charged.

    I have no doubt he will mount a defence of I was brutally beaten up by police. Be interesting to see what physical evidence of this is actually forthcoming. Even if this did happen which is clearly a good possibility it doesnt mean he has a defence in law.

  3. #3 SpecialC 27 Mar 12

    He was hit by a concrete bloc thrown from behind him, and chose to become involed in an increasingly violent protest with the lives of police officers under threat. He should not have been there - if you do these things the risks are - you're going to get hurt, and you're going to get prosecuted. Don't start bleeting on ’oh poor Alfie’ - maybe next time he'll protest peacefully.

  4. #4 Henry Brubaker 27 Mar 12

    Those of you who profess to be Alfie Meadows should surely welcome his chance to prove his innocence through the traditional medium of the court of law. Here is his chance for (Global) Justice!

    If, like you protest, he is innocent of the charges then he will be set free.

    If, on the other hand, he is found guilty then hopefully prison awaits.

  5. #5 ciderpunx 27 Mar 12

    > If, like you protest, he is innocent of the charges then he will be set free.

    Thank goodness that the courts never make any mistakes. I mean its not like it turned out that the Birmingham 6 were innocent or anything. Oh. wait...

  6. #6 Beth 27 Mar 12

    @ Clive - and Tomlinson drank himself to death, Smiley Culture stabbed himself? Was Blair Peach hit from behind by a lump of concrete too? Why give the police an infinite benefit of the doubt while apparently holding Alfie Meadows accountable for a bizarre list of things that have nothing to do with him?

  7. #7 Evie Hodgson 27 Mar 12

    Please post updates every day of the cases, so l can network and inform worldwide. Alfie and others spoke very well at the house of commons last week at the meeting organised by The Right to Protest and l was alarmed by information that was aired that l had been ignorant of previously. This case and the prosecutions presentation is a fantasy. The shoe should be on the other foot methinks.

  8. #8 bar 03 Apr 12

    ok, i tried to ask these questions so many time no one involved bothered to answer. i thought it is obvious the difference between an injury inflicted by a concrete piece of stone and a iron bar.

    i wrote on the story if you want to have a look.

    http://inthenameofhumanrights.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/rear-to-protest-temporary-dont-even-have-a-look-at-this-post-it-is-just-to-give-you-an-idea-of-why-you-might-come-back-for-more-in-2013-when-i-ll-have-time-to-dust-and-tidy-that/

    hi there!
    Here is my blog. http://inthenameofhumanrights.wordpress.com
    Link to free literature on Human.Rights and duties, social, political issues, well-being, spirituality, environmentalism.

  9. #9 bar 03 Apr 12

    ok, i tried to ask these questions so many time no one involved bothered to answer. i thought it is obvious the difference between an injury inflicted by a concrete piece of stone and a iron bar.

    i wrote on the story if you want to have a look.

    http://inthenameofhumanrights.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/rear-to-protest-temporary-dont-even-have-a-look-at-this-post-it-is-just-to-give-you-an-idea-of-why-you-might-come-back-for-more-in-2013-when-i-ll-have-time-to-dust-and-tidy-that/

    hi there!
    Here is my blog. http://inthenameofhumanrights.wordpress.com
    Link to free literature on Human.Rights and duties, social, political issues, well-being, spirituality, environmentalism.

  10. #10 John Rid 22 Jun 13

    Alfie faced 3 different Affray charges, the first it s a hung jury, the second he cancelled the case as his lawyer was I'll. the third he was cleared after the judge said he ’ was nearly committing Affray’,
    If the P.C did hit him on the head as he'd faced 3 different trials of which the last the judge said he'd nearly done it. Then surely this is a case that the P.C could say he s acting in self defence

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About the author

Nick Harvey a New Internationalist contributor

Nick Harvey spent 2007 and 2008 hitch-hiking from Europe to Asia, writing along the way, and becoming a leading voice on LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex) issues in India. Since then he’s published dozens of articles – mainly for New Internationalist  – on both well-known and obscure international human rights issues from the plight of Tuaregs in Mali to the fight for democracy in Swaziland. As well as freelancing as a journalist, he’s currently the communications lead for the health charity Doctors of the World (Médecins du Monde) UK.

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