Michael Fabricant’s war on Westminster irritant Steve Bray has hit a semi-inevitable roadblock. While the Metropolitan Police have been working alongside the Parliament’s security department to gather evidence on Bray’s nuisance-making, following Fabricant’s written complaint, they’ve struggled to find witnesses who are willing to go to court and actually accuse Bray of harassment. Which would probably cause more hassle than just putting up with Bray’s whingeing…
Writing to Fabricant on behalf of the House of Commons Commission, Sir Charles Walker said:
“Some witnesses do not want to give statements or are unwilling to go to court; without such testimony it makes any legal action very unlikely. In addition, some behaviour does not constitute a criminal offence when viewed in isolation; without witness statements, building a persuasive case around persistent behaviour is very difficult.”
Still, he adds that the Parliamentary Liaison and Investigation team are “considering all options” if and when they identify relevant statements and substantial evidence. Although he caveats that by saying “hearsay evidence is inadmissible in court”. Ultimately it was always a long shot that anything serious would come of all this – it was a stretch to call Bray’s behaviour “harassment“. Like Fabbers himself said, he’s really just a “pain in the arse”…
Read Walker’s written answer in full below:
The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) is working with the Parliamentary Security Department to identify Members and staff who have reported the behaviour. This includes identifying those who are able and willing to provide a signed statement which with a statutory declaration can be used for criminal justice purposes. Officers are assessing each occasion that we are aware of, taking into account behaviour; the current law; and the latest guidance on protest from case law. This has taken time. Some witnesses do not want to give statements or are unwilling to go to court; without such testimony it makes any legal action very unlikely. In addition, some behaviour does not constitute a criminal offence when viewed in isolation; without witness statements, building a persuasive case around persistent behaviour is very difficult.
The Parliamentary Liaison and Investigation (PLaIT) are considering all options once they have identified what statements can be obtained, and assessing the evidence provided against the relevant legislation. PLaIT will work in consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), who are the ultimate decision maker on whether to prosecute and what for. It is worth noting that hearsay evidence is inadmissible in court, therefore statements need to be gathered from the principal witness, which outline the impact and can be tested in court. Even if a police officer witnessed the event, there would still need to be a victim statement which evidences the offences and impact.
There is a long history of protest outside Parliament and a number of pieces of statute legislation have been put in place to moderate protest activity. Article 9, 10 and 11 of the Human Rights Act 1998 gives the freedom of thought, expression and assembly/association, and these rights mean that protest legislation remains one of the most contested in the courts; the resulting case law provides an ever changing interpretation of the laws. Therefore the use of legislation, especially new legislation, which interferes in the rights to protest needs to be carefully considered, be proportionate and likely to succeed.