Cuts demo student Alfie Meadows acquitted of violent disorder

Alfie Meadows, the student severely injured during 2010 student protests and accused of violent disorder by police, has been acquitted.

The jury reached a unanimous verdict after around five hours of deliberation after retiring to consider its verdict at 11am this morning.

Reactions on Twitter to the news that Meadows had been acquitted, along with fellow demonstrator Zac King, were celebratory. The pair could have faced a prison sentence of up to five years if found guilty.

One of Meadows’ supporters @piercepenniless who had been present during the summing up and had waited at Woolwich Crown Court all day for the verdict tweeted: “Alfie Meadows & Zak King both not guilty. Unanimous verdict from the jury. Ecstatic here, ecstatic!”

Activist Rachel Harger of Defend the Right to Protest added: “The jurors couldn’t keep their smiles to themselves delivering the unanimous not guilty verdicts.”

Judge Moore told the jury before they retired to consider their verdict: “Experience has shown that common sense is a wonderful attribute for a jury.”

Meadows was accused of intentional and premeditated violence towards police during the kettling of protesters demonstrating against education cuts and tuition fee rises on 9 December 2010.

He underwent emergency brain surgery after being injured during the demonstration and alleges his injury was due to being hit with a police truncheon.

He was tried alongside Zac King, also accused of violent disorder during the protest. They were first tried with three other men, who were all found not guilty. During the first trial in March 2012, jurors could not agree a verdict on Meadows and King. A retrial was begun in October 2012 but was aborted due to repeated delays. The most recent trial began on 12 February 2013.

At his first trial Meadows stated: “I exercised my right to protest against something I feel strongly about. I ended up in hospital after being struck on the head with a police baton. I am now being prosecuted for violent disorder at that protest. I strongly deny the charge.

“I hope it results in lessons being learnt by the police for the future policing of protests so that no one will ever endure what my family and I have. I am extremely grateful for all of the expressions of concern and support for me by members of the public.”

Meadows’ defence counsel was Carol Hawley of Tooks Chambers.

Meadows’ mother lecturer Susan Matthews has told media: “The struggle for justice for my son has finally begun. The whole family has been through two years of total agony. We have been silenced on what happened to our son. We can now move on to the really important thing, which is to get justice for Alfie.”

Defend the Right to Protest, the campaign group that has supported Meadows and King throughout their trials, states: “Zak and Alfie have had to wait more than two years and go through the ordeal of three trials to clear their names. Meanwhile the trial has taken a heavy toll on both Alfie and Zak’s families, with Zak having had to watch his younger brother being dragged through the courts on the same false charge.

“The trial has also exposed the same pattern of criminalisation and victimisation by the police and CPS, which we also saw played out in the cases of the Hillsborough tragedy and the miners’ strike at Orgreave.

“Alfie suffered a baton blow to the head at the same protest, which required life-saving brain surgery. While the police have so far escaped any form of accountability for their actions, Alfie was charged with violent disorder and has had to fight to clear his name before finally beginning the road to justice.

“Of the 15 protesters who pleaded not guilty to charges of violent disorder relating to the 9 December 2010 demo, so far 14 have been found not guilty. In a time of unprecedented cuts to public funding, it is atrocious that the police and the CPS have wasted resources in the pursuit of criminalising protesters.

“The trial has allowed us to scrutinise what happened on the day of the protest. The peaceful and kettled protesters were charged at with horses and subjected to indiscriminate baton use. When Alfie’s barrister Carol Hawley challenged officer Wood, a senior officer in charge of the ground operation on the day, on whether their batons had been used as a last resort, his reply was that the use of a machine gun against protesters would have been the last resort. It transpired that police also considered the use of rubber bullets against the student protesters.”

Last month, Lawyer2B reported that just 16 per cent of law students it surveyed believe a university education is invaluable and justifies the £9,000 annual cost of tuition fees (18 February 2013).