10:16, January 16 217 0 theguardian.com

2020-01-16 10:16:04
Union chief to sue police over megaphone assault trial

A gig economy union leader is to sue the police after he was wrongly prosecuted for alleged assault at a demonstration by using a megaphone close to police officers’ ears.

James Farrar, a former Uber driver who leads the private hire branch of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), will claim malicious prosecution after his trial at Southwark crown court collapsed on Thursday because of a lack of evidence.

Judge Philip Bartle QC instructed the jury to acquit after two days of evidence and said it was “very unfortunate indeed that this case arose”. Farrar described the prosecution as “a corrupt and crude attempt by the Metropolitan police and Transport for London to break our union and further disenfranchise precarious workers”.

Farrar’s solicitor said he could also sue the Crown Prosecution Service in the same civil suit.

Farrar said the prosecution was only triggered when he chased up a complaint about police treatment of the minicab drivers at the 4 March protest which he believed was discriminatory because police were responding differently to a simultaneous black taxi protest. He asked the Independent Office for Police Conduct to escalate his complaint on 23 July 2019 and he was charged with assault 48 hours later.

Two police officers complained their hearing was hurt by Farrar’s loud megaphone when he was leading the protest against the mayor of London’s decision to levy the congestion charge on minicabs but not black taxis. The union alleges it amounts to racial discrimination because minicab drivers in London are mostly from ethnic minorities while taxi drivers are mostly white.

“We think the prosecution was a result of James’s complaints,” said Raj Chada, his solicitor at Hodge Jones Allen. “The police were covering their own backs and using it as a smoke screen.”

Judge Bartle instructed the jury there was no evidence of “beating” and that using a loudhailer was not sufficient to amount to an offence of the unlawful application of force. Even if an application for costs is successful, the three-day trial will still have cost Farrar and his union around £20,000.

Farrar said: “I now call on the Mayor of London to conduct an urgent investigation into this case and ensure those responsible are held to account. I have now instructed my lawyers to pursue this matter.”

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 the protesting black-cab drivers.

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, who was diagnosed with a hearing problem several decades ago and wore hearing aids, claimed she was left with her ear ringing “like a fire alarm going off”.

“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,” she said.

Ikah Peart QC, for Farrar, put it to her that the noisy demonstration was like “a loud rock concert” and “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.

Judge Bartle told the jury: “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 IWGB said it was “deeply concerned that police allegations came after the union had lodged official complaints with the Metropolitan police road and transport command 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.”

The Met and the CPS have been contacted for comment.