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Rosamond at Hastings Law Courts

Photo by Rosa Canadas.

Trial of BHLR opponents

A few days ago the trials began of the Combe Haven 19 – those arrested during the winter protests against the Bexhill Hastings Link Road. Local resident and grandmother Rosamond Palmer was the first to be brought to court, in January, and subsequently initiated various Granny Actions to protect Combe Haven Valley and stop the link road. Here she gives a personal account of her experience of her trial at Hastings Law Courts.

I’ve spent all week in court and now I know how hard barristers work. It wasn’t just keeping on top of the paperwork, it was also understanding what the prosecution threw at me and, more to the point, what I threw at them.

Here I am at the end of trial number two of the Combe Haven 19. I’m just glad the granny of the group was scheduled to go second and it’s over. I feel like I’ve given a double performance of the unabridged Hamlet, but with little knowledge of the script.

Granny Tree

Granny Action against the BHLR

I have had so much support; my women friends have wrapped their warmth around me, while two of my best mates, Christopher and Jonathan, took turns to be my ‘McKenzie friend’. A McKenzie friend is a non-legal person who supports an unrepresented defendant by taking notes, offering their advice and insights and finding buried scraps of paper containing vital questions that are needed right now, this second. They also provided a physical barrier between the counsel for the prosecution and me.

My case, which I presume everyone thought would be straightforward, became much more involved when a helpful barrister dug up evidence that East Sussex County Council did not follow the correct procedure for acquiring the land where I was arrested. The judge immediately grasped the implications and took it very seriously.  The prosecution counsel hadn’t received my letter and appeared completely thrown. However, he was soon on the case and started the counter-process of proving me wrong. I changed up several gears, running on adrenalin and little sleep.

Before my trial commenced, the judge directed the prosecution counsel to consider whether continuing with my prosecution was in the public interest. Amongst the Combe Haven Defenders and supporters, there was great excitement. If my trial got dismissed, it would look good, but I wanted my trial: I wanted the opportunity to challenge ESCC over the land ownership. My emotions and energy flew up and down, because equally I wanted to be let off the hook and return to my normal life.

Rosamond and Shergroup employee

Rosamond and Shergroup employee (photo: Marta Lefler).

My trial went ahead. Judge Crabtree told me to take my time and if I didn’t understand anything, to stand up, so he would know I needed his attention.  The first day kicked off with counsel for the prosecution reading out a statement I hadn’t agreed to. I was thrown and searched my file, panic rising, but I didn’t dare rise to my feet and argue the point until I had the letter in my hand confirming this agreement.

Later that day I cross-examined ESCC’s Head of Strategic Property. His robotic answers vibrated back. “You are correct.” Or: “You are incorrect.” His shield felt impenetrable, like trying to get blood out of a Dalek. He was followed by a High Court Enforcement Officer from Shergroup.  I didn’t do much better with him. I ended the day thinking I’d been massacred, but had held onto my dignity.

That night I worked until 1am and in the calm of my own home, found the letter confirming that the first statement wasn’t to be read out. The next day I presented this to the judge, who came up with the solution of summonsing the witness to attend court for cross-examination.  By 11.30, the prosecution had finished the case against me except for this final witness, who had been tracked down in Birmingham. The judge told the court to organise a video-link and again told the prosecuting counsel to consult his team and consider very carefully whether they wanted to continue with the case against me. We would all meet again at 12 noon.

The video link was organised for 2pm, but no conclusion yet as to whether my case was to continue. We would all meet again at 12.30. We met. My case continued.

Granny Action with cake for Transport Minister

Granny Action with cake for Transport Minister.

Sonia from Crowhurst drove me home so I was able to update my closing summary and find some missing papers. Jonathan and I worked through my cross-examination of the witness via video-link. I had no idea how it would work, but it turned out to be a lot simpler than I’d imagined. We all sat in court in exactly the same positions and the witness appeared on the screen. I thought I was doing better at keeping my powder dry. The witness confirmed everything he had said in his statement and I did nothing to challenge it.

The transcript from my police interview was then read out and the case for the prosecution ended.

It was now my turn to present the defence and of course this felt a whole lot easier. I took the witness stand and gave a brief statement. The prosecution counsel and I then embarked on a gruelling and lengthy game of cat and mouse. I don’t know what made him stop, but he did.

Floating Gran Prix Granny Action Photo by Marta Lefler

Gran Prix, Granny Action (photo by Marta Lefler).

Marta Lefler, who has followed the protest from early on and whose film and photos have chronicled our journey, was sworn in. I announced I would use film and a photograph she had taken on the day. The Crown Prosecution Service had failed to give their counsel a copy of this film, even though I had submitted it in advance. The judge ruled the film be shown. Marta was calm and articulate. The conflicting evidence of two of the prosecution’s witnesses was revealed.

Derrick Coffee of Hastings Alliance and the Campaign for Better Transport then gave an excellent 10-minute presentation of the history of the BHLR to which the judge listened with his ceaseless capacity to grasp what is important.

I rose and delivered my closing statement.

The verdict? I got a nine-month conditional discharge. It hadn’t been advantageous to expose false witness, they weren’t on trial, I was. However the prosecution got the bill. I think that was a well-apportioned judgement.

Link to Hastings Alliance site here.

Link to Combe Haven Defenders site here.

Previous HOT article on court process and BHLR here.

Link to Fiona Essex’s Grannies Wisdom and the Land site here.

For further articles, please search Bexhill Hastings Link Road.

Posted 16:40 Saturday, Sep 14, 2013 In: Campaigns

1 Comment

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. DAR

    Unfortunately, I don’t think anything is going to stop this gross example of environmental vandalism now.

    Comment by DAR — Thursday, Sep 19, 2013 @ 13:32

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