Chalking trial: video contradicts second police account
• Footage disproves claim officer was kicked into van door
• Prosecution and defence close, verdict due 25 February
A police officer who claimed a student protester arrested for chalking on University of London (UoL) property had kicked her into a van door backtracked today after a court saw footage proving she had not.
In a day of proceedings that saw defendant Ms K. Duff take the witness stand, and both prosecution and defence give closing speeches, police constable Siobhan O’Grady became the second officer in the trial to have their account of events contradicted by video.
PC O’Grady told Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court that Duff, 25, had assaulted her as she and two other officers tried to lift her into the back of a police van last July.
She said: “My right leg took the full force of that kick which caused me to fall back and to the left, into the van door… It just really hurt at the time. It shocked me.”
But during cross-examination, defence barrister Benjamin Newton played a video that showed PC O’Grady had not made any contact with the vehicle door.
He said: “You certainly don’t fall, and you don’t fall near the door. Why did you say you did?”
PC O’Grady replied: “I don’t really know.” However, she still insisted she was assaulted and said: “I’d still say I was shocked. But yeah, I didn’t fall against the van.”
Defence barrister Newton said: “I suggest you sought to make it seem worse that it was in your statement, and the only thing that brought this to light is that someone filmed it.”
Yesterday, the court saw footage that showed special constable David Inwood, who testified to witnessing Duff assault PC O’Grady, could not have done so.
Duff, who was arrested on 16 July 2013 after writing a protest slogan in support of outsourced cleaners on UoL’s foundation stone using chalk, also gave evidence today. She denies all three of her charges – one count of criminal damage and two of assaulting a police officer.
Duff explained that she had written in chalk on the stone as part of the 3Cosas campaign, saying it seemed like an “inoffensive way of raising awareness” for a planned protest the next day.
She said she “never imagined” it would become a police matter or that it would cost as much as it did to repair.
Describing how she felt as police officers tried to handcuff her inside the University of London Union, Duff said: “I did find it distressing and painful, but I was trying to be calm and I was focussing on being non-violent in my resistance… I definitely wasn’t kicking out or lashing out.”
She said that officers grabbed the inside of her thighs, and footage was shown to the court in which she said: “You like putting your hands up people’s skirts, don’t you?” as officers tried to put her inside a police van.
Duff insisted that any physical contact she had made with police was “involuntary”.
Photographs were presented in court which showed injuries to Duff’s arm following her arrest.
Prosecutor Dilichi Onuzo cross-examined Duff, saying: “I’m going to suggest that you just wanted to deface that stone.”
Onuzo questioned how what Duff had written on the stone could have informed people about the planned 3Cosas protest, saying it contained no details of the time or location and was difficult to read. But Duff insisted it was “in a prominent place” and was “easy to see”.
Onuzo also argued that because the foundation stone had the words “This stone was laid by His Majesty King George V” inscribed on it Duff could have recognised it was an “important stone”.
The prosecutor also said Duff had assaulted acting special sergeant Liam Souter, telling her “you brought your knee up and hit the officer”.
Duff said: “I didn’t bring my knee up in order to his his face and I certainly wasn’t thrashing around… I think it was an accident.”
Onuzo denied that a “little movement” could have caused sergeant Souter’s police helmet, which was “designed to stay on”, to fall off. Duff replied: “I don’t think it would have taken that much force… It was actually on back to front.”
Referring to Duff’s alleged assault of PC O’Brady, Onuzo said: “You kick out at the female police officer, don’t you?” Duff responded: “I agree I involuntarily moved my leg after being touched in between my legs.”
Onuzo put it to Duff that if she had walked into the van as she was asked to, PC O’Brady would not have been kicked, and so she was “responsible for that kick that she suffered”. But Duff denied this made her responsible.
In her closing speech for the prosecution, Onuzo said the fact Duff “didn’t know it would cost upwards of £800 to fix it [the foundation stone] is not relevant.” She pointed out that often criminal damage “is an offence prosecuted when the amount of damage is much less.”
Regarding the alleged assault on sergeant Souter, Onuzo said it is “at the very least reckless” and suggested Souter’s recollection of the incident was clearer than Duff’s.
With respect to the second alleged assault, Onuzo played down the disputed account of SC Inwood, saying PC O’Brady “gave clear evidence” she was assaulted. She said that PC O’Brady would not have told Duff to stop kicking, as footage showed, if she had not been kicked.
In his closing defence, Newton said “this is a protest case”.
“There isn’t a legitimate aim in a democratic society to prosecute a student chalking a political expression on the wall of a university when the university made no effort to deal with it through disciplinary procedures. The fact the university wanted it prosecuted doesn’t make it a legitimate aim.”
He argued the criminal damage charge had to be considered in a context where “chalking was common place” and “routinely accepted and condoned”. He added that from a “layman’s perspective” it was not obvious that chalking on the stone would cost so much to repair.
Newton said it was “fanciful” to argue Duff had intentionally assaulted the officers, saying: “She was doing her absolute level-best to avoid using unlawful force”. He added it made no sense to call the alleged assaults reckless since they were involuntary.
Referring to the alleged assault of sergeant Souter, he said that Duff had not kicked up at him, but that he was “virtually on all fours down by her legs”.
Newton said PC O’Grady’s claim she was assaulted is “greatly exaggerated”, saying video footage “shows no signs of distress at all”.
He added that SC Inwood’s claim to have witnessed PC O’Grady being assaulted was “bordering on perjury”.
Judge Nina Tempia will deliver her verdict on Tuesday 25 February at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court.