Amy Fox

Writer. Editor. Bad at blogging.

Concrete: Student officer fined after protest fracas

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Non-portfolio officer Liam McCafferty is facing almost £1,000 in legal bills and fines after losing an appeal against his conviction for fear or provocation of violence at an Unite Against Fascism protest against the EDL in Bolton in March 2010.

Initially charged with assaulting a police officer, McCafferty, who is heavily involved in many student campaign issues, described the atmosphere at the initial protest as “chaotic”.  Caught in the crush of protesters and concentrating on keeping his balance, he admits: “I probably did make some sort of contact, but my arms were everywhere, I wasn’t even thinking about it.” However, this was misinterpreted as a direct assault.

No specific police officer has been identified as the one allegedly attacked, with witness statements from the two officers against McCafferty appearing inconsistent. The original charge was therefore changed, and McCafferty fined £100.

Judge Steven Everett then ruled against him in the appeal this month, saying: “Either the police officers got together to tell a whole pack of lies about a person they are indifferent to, or they saw a deliberate blow. Mr McCafferty saw the police officer in front of him and he decided in the heat of the moment to strike out a few sly blows.”

In addition to the original fine, he now must also pay £830 in court costs and a £15 victim surcharge. When asked if he felt he had been unfairly treated, McCafferty said: “You’re always going to feel [that] if you feel there’s been an injustice.” With regards to the court fees themselves, he said: “[It] is a bit of a bizarre sense of justice, like you can only have justice if you can pay for it, if you can afford it.”

He also expressed concerns over the incrimination of peaceful protests: “… courts are used to make people frightened of peaceful protests, and I don’t think that’s right. I think people should feel they can go and protest about anything they want, and not feel as if they should be intimidated off the streets.”
When asked if he had experienced any violence from the police, he said: “When I was arrested in that instance, the police were far from level-headed about it, there’s footage of me on the internet saying “Look, what’s going on?” and them being quite heavy-handed. It’s not the first time that’s happened … But a lot of students who don’t know anything about police brutality often find themselves face to face with it, and a bit shocked, it changes their perceptions about the police and the role of the state.”

At the same protest in 2010, footage emerged of 63-year-old UAF protester Alan Clough being struck in the face by a police officer, before falling to the ground and being hit with batons. After the IPCC investigated the case for 16 months, the police officer responsible may now face prosecution.

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