WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
February 01 2023
WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO

Anti-apartheid campaigners have convictions overturned 50 years after demo

Anti-apartheid campaigners have convictions overturned 50 years after demo

Three anti-apartheid campaigners have had their convictions overturned 50 years after they took part in a demo to halt the departure of the England rugby ahead of a tour of South Africa. As reported before the Christmas break, the miscarriage of justice watchdog referred the case back to the courts after the involvement of the role of an undercover police officer emerged (see here). 

The appeals were heard yesterday at Kingston Upon Thames Crown Court and related to the cases of Christabel Gurney, Ernest Rodker and Jonathan Rosenhead variously convicted of obstructing the highway and obstructing the police. A total of 14 protesters from the Putney Young Liberals had been arrested and charged after sitting in the path of the team’s coach in the action which took place in 1972 resulting in all but one being convicted. Unknown to the court or fellow defendants, one of the group was an undercover police officer known as HN298 from the Metropolitan Police’s Special Demonstration Squad who has since been identified as ‘Michael Scott’ (see Rob Evans reporting in the Guardian). According to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the officer was party to preparations for the activists’ legal defence which he reported back to his bosses in breach of  the confidentiality between his co-defendants and their lawyers.

The officer took part in the demo, was arrested at the scene and convicted under his assumed name. The CCRC noted: ‘Contrary to guidance in force at the time, the SDS failed to reveal the presence of HN298 to the investigating officers, the prosecutor or the court.’ 

Helen Pitcher OBE, chairman of CCRC, explained that that the cases were referred ‘because the courts in 1972 were misled and the defendants’ basic legal rights were breached’. ‘During our investigation we saw evidence of deliberate and persistent non-disclosure by the police which was sanctioned by senior officers,’ she said. ‘The CCRC was confident that once the Crown Court heard the full facts surrounding these historical convictions, they would be overturned. Public confidence in the police and our public institutions is very important.’

The information about HN298 came to light as a result of ongoing  Undercover Policing Inquiry set up by Theresa May in 2015 and were the first cases referred to the CCRC by the UCPI.