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Trial of union leader for assault by megaphone collapses | UK news


The trial of a gig economy trade union leader for allegedly assaulting two police officers by using a megaphone close to their ears has collapsed because of a lack of evidence.

James Farrar, the leader of the private hire branch of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), was prosecuted for assault by “beating” of two police officers who complained that their hearing was hurt when he was leading a protest against unfair treatment of minicab drivers on 4 March last year in Parliament Square, London.

Addressing the jury on the third day of the trial at Southwark crown court, the judge Philip Bartle QC said: “On the facts of this case, the use of a loudhailer was not, considering the law, sufficient to amount to an offence of the unlawful application of force.”

The jury returned verdicts of not guilty and Farrar’s defence team said they would apply for costs.

In a statement, Farrar criticised the case as “a corrupt and crude attempt by the Metropolitan police and Transport for London to break our union and further disenfranchise precarious workers”.

The protest complained that TfL’s decision to levy the congestion charge on minicab drivers but not black-cab drivers amounted to racial discrimination as black-cab drivers are predominantly white and minicab drivers are mainly from ethnic minorities.

The court heard that the prosecution was brought after Farrar made a formal complaint about the policing of the protest. The alleged assault occurred when police tried to clear protesters away from flatbed trucks the Met had brought in to help remove parked cars.

Farrar had wanted his members to be able to drive on to the square and complained to police that they were being treated differently to black-cab drivers, who were also protesting that day.

He said it was because “the demonstrators came from black and minority ethnic backgrounds”, Terence Woods, prosecuting, told the jury. “Black-cab drivers are predominately white British.”

Bartle said: “It was very unfortunate indeed that this case arose at all, in the light of what had happened in the past. That is all I can really say about that.”

He told the jury: “The evidence in this case did not disclose an offence. The essence of the argument which I accept was that the facts did not justify the offence in either case of assault by beating, because that offence requires unlawful application of force and I accepted the defence argument that on the facts of this case the use of a loudhailer was not, considering the law, sufficient to amount to an offence of the unlawful application of force.”

The prosecution told the jury that the loud noise from Farrar’s megaphone exacerbated an ear infection in one of the officers, Sgt James Lewis. PC Ann Spinks claimed she was left with her ear ringing “like a fire alarm going off”.

“My ear at that time had gone bright red and was quite hot to touch,” she said. “The initial ringing in my ear was still happening towards the end of that day and it wasn’t as bad as it had initially been, probably about two or three days after.”

Jurors were told Spinks had been diagnosed with a hearing problem several decades ago, leading her to now wear hearing aids in both ears.

Woods said during the trial: “I think it is right to say that you many years before had seen somebody about your hearing.”

Spinks replied: “Yes. I was told that by the time you’re 50, 55, your hearing will be significantly less than it is now.”

Ikah Peart QC, for Farrar, said: “During that protest there were all manner of equipment deployed to make noise. That’s what the demonstration was like – a loud rock concert. You can’t attribute the ringing in your ear simply because you’ve chosen to stand in front of Mr Farrar’s megaphone.”

“Not specifically, no,” Spinks replied.

The IWGB said in a statement afterwards: “The union is deeply concerned that police allegations came after the union had lodged official complaints with the Metropolitan police road and transport command (MPSRTP) over police behaviour at the demonstration.

“Farrar complained about police violence against protesters and terrorist profiling of union members. He was released under investigation for four and a half months and a charging decision was made within 48 hours of him escalating his earlier complaint about police behaviour after police inaction.”

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