Three Cambridge graduates were today celebrating being cleared over a confrontation with police during Occupy London protests in Parliament Square.
Rosa Robson, Matilda Wnek and Kate Huggett, all 23, had allegedly defied police orders to get off a tarpaulin sheet and leave the square. They and Elizabeth Beck, 52, were eventually carried away by officers in October last year.
Robson and Wnek, former members of the Cambridge Footlights who tour Britain with their comedy double act “Beard”, were among 15 protesters, including Green Party peer Jenny Jones, arrested for allegedly failing to leave the square when told to by police.
The group was campaigning on issues including the privatisation of the NHS, tuition fees, cuts to the welfare state and the environment.
Westminster magistrates’ court heard that during the protest Huggett, Beck, Wnek and Robson were sitting on a blue tarpaulin, which police claimed amounted to camping equipment.
On the day of the protests, Wnek tweeted: “The protest goes on & today banners are allowed on site! Come with paints or points of view and test this democracy.”
Robson tweeted: “Police vans are surrounding the square to block view of the square so they can seize us illegally” and “12 police vans for some tarpaulin #taxpayersmoney”.
Later, she tweeted: “If ur reading this ur the first to know police trying to move us on this morning get down stand by and show support #occupydemocracy.”
The four women denied breaching the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, banning tents or “any controlled structure that is designed or adapted for the purpose of facilitating sleeping or staying in a place for any period” in Parliament Square. They argued the tarpaulin was not “camping equipment”. Tom Wainwright, for Wnek and Beck, said: “It’s not like a groundsheet, whose fundamental use would be to allow users to remain outdoors. So it’s not like a groundsheet and it’s not like a mattress either.”
The group claimed they could not be charged with breaching the bylaws because the police were unaware the law existed at the time of their arrest. Arresting officers from the Territorial Support Group said the group all had backpacks and sleeping bags.
District Judge Richard Blake had refused to throw out the charges at the end of the prosecution’s case, ruling that there was a case to answer. He said: “I’m satisfied that the tarpaulin was being used to facilitate sleeping. It apparently provided some sort of comfort for the people to remain in the square.
“It was clearly being used and I’ve seen footage of it being wrapped around people. Without the tarpaulin people would have found themselves on the damp October grass of Parliament Square. I accept that this is not a normal use for tarpaulin.”
But he later acquitted Robson, of Frome, Somerset; Wnek, of Kilburn; and Huggett and Beck, both of Manchester, of breaching the Act and Parliament Square bylaws.