Copper: “How long are you going to be here?” Brian Haw: “As long as it takes!”
(June 2nd, 2001)
In the end, he camped outside Parliament for ten years.
On 2 June 2001, Brian Haw set up camp in Parliament Square, over the road from the UK’s seat of government, in a one-man political protest against war and foreign policy. In the beginning, his protest was sparked by the suffering inflicted by UK/US-sponsored sanctions against Iraq), though the focus became the insane blood and profit-fest that were the Iraq and Afghan wars. He only left his makeshift campsite in order to attend court hearings, surviving on food brought by supporters.
Originally camping on the grass in Parliament Square, after the Greater London Authority took legal action to remove him, he moved to the pavement, the responsibility of administered by Westminster City Council instead. In October 2002 Westminster’s attempt to prosecute Haw for causing an obstruction collapsed – Haw’s banners did not prevent people walking along. However Haw’s continuous barrage of vocal protest through his megaphone got on the nerves of MPs who whined that it distracted them and made them lose count when filling in their expenses forms.
A rushed House of Commons Procedure Committee inquiry in summer 2003, which heard ‘evidence’ (not in any way written by the respected ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ Unit) that permanent protests in Parliament Square could be exploited by terrorists who would smuggle in explosive devices (probably under Brian Haw’s famous fishing hat). As a result, the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (sections 132 to 138) was passed, banning all unlicensed protests, permanent or otherwise, in the Square. Red faces all round, though, when they realised they’d failed to make the legislation retrospective, and so the law couldn’t be applied to Brian Haw because his camp preceded this law. Bright aren’t they?
In the 2005 general election Haw stood as a candidate in the Cities of London and Westminster in order to further his campaign and oppose the Act which was yet to come into force. He won 298 votes (0.8 percent), making a speech against the ongoing presence of UK troops in Iraq at the declaration of the result.
Haw was joined in December 2005 by Barbara Grace Tucker who since his death in June 2011 has continued her presence opposite the Houses of Parliament. In the seven years or so since her arrival she has been arrested 47 times – usually on a charge of “unauthorised demonstration”.
After a good deal of legal shananigans, eventually a Judge in the Court of Appeal ruled that the law did apply to him: “The only sensible conclusion to reach in these circumstances is that Parliament intended that those sections of the Act should apply to a demonstration in the designated area, whether it started before or after they came into force. Any other conclusion would be wholly irrational and could fairly be described as manifestly absurd.” Manifestly absurd? Serious reality check needed for THAT judge.
In the meantime Haw had applied for permission to continue his demonstration, and received it on condition that his display of placards is no more than 3 metres (9.8 ft) wide (among other things). Haw was unwilling to comply and the police referred his case to the Crown Prosecution Service; a number of supporters began camping with him in order to deter attempts to evict him.
In the early hours of 23 May 2006, 78 police arrived and removed all but one of Haw’s placards citing continual breached conditions of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 as their reason for doing so. Ian Blair (head of the Metropolitan Police at the time) later admitted that the operation to remove Haw’s placards had cost £27,000. Haw appeared at Bow Street Magistrates’ Court on 30 May, when he refused to enter a plea. The court entered a not guilty plea on his behalf, and he was bailed to return to court on 11 July 2006.
At a licensing hearing at Westminster City Council on 30 June 2006, Haw was granted limited permission to use a loudspeaker in the space allowed to him. On 22 January 2007 he was acquitted on the grounds that the conditions he was accused of breaching were not sufficiently clear, and that they should have been imposed by a police officer of higher rank. District Judge Purdy ruled: “I find the conditions, drafted as they are, lack clarity and are not workable in their current form.” However, Brian was repeatedly nicked, harassed, beaten up by ‘patriots’, squaddies, mental yanks from the US embassy (who were given diplomatic protection). None of which put him off.
In September 2010 Haw was diagnosed with lung cancer. On 1 January 2011 he left England to receive treatment in Berlin, buy died in Germany in the early hours of 18 June 2011 of lung cancer.
An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online