Ahava store protesters cleared of charges

Activists who chained themselves inside London location acquitted.

By JONNY PAUL
August 13, 2010 18:47
3 minute read.
Ahava

Ahava. (photo credit: Courtesy)

A group of anti-Israel protesters who chained themselves inside the Israeli cosmetic store Ahava in central London last year have been acquitted and cleared of all related charges after the store manager failed to attend the court hearing on Tuesday.

The four activists locked themselves to concrete blocks inside the store in London’s Covent Garden on two separate occasions last September and December, forcing it to close for most of the day.

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The activists – Bruce Levy, 46, Jo Crouch, 29, Tom Ellis, 30, and Taherali Gulamhussein, 24 – were charged with aggravated trespass and failing to comply with a police order to leave the premises. However after the Ahava store manager Rita Trindade refused to attend court to testify, despite a court summons and efforts by the police to contact her, all charges were
dropped.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated by the police in England and Wales, said it required Trindade to attend to testify as a key witness.

A CPS spokesman said that once she did not attend, it was unable to offer evidence against the defendants.

“The store manager, Rita Trindade who was required to give evidence did not attend court and had been informed in advance of the trial date. This was by letter sent to her by the police witness care department. When she did not attend court, a witness summons was applied for and granted by the court requiring her to attend on 10 August. This was personally served on her on 9 August by the officer in the case and it was explained to her she needed to attend court. On 10 August Trindade did not attend court in answer to the summons and all efforts by the police to contact her failed. As the store manager of Ahava, she was the key prosecution witness. Without her we were unable to continue with the case and so offered no evidence against each defendant,” CPS said in a statement.

The Zionist Federation of the UK said that while it regretted the absence of the store manager, it was “appalled” by the decision.

“The British legal system is being hijacked by a small and malicious group of anti-Israel campaigners,” said Jonathan Sacerdoti, ZF Public Affairs director. “They appear to be far more interested in attempting to damage the Jewish state than in building a peaceful future for the Middle East.

“This UK government, like the last, does not support boycotting Israeli goods, no matter from which part of Israel they originate. Those who seek to intimidate shops selling Israeli products should be ashamed of themselves. Their actions run contrary to the traditional British values of decency, fairness and freedom. Other local businesses are also damaged by the presence of these disruptive crowds, who show no concern for the damage they do to those around them,” Sacerdoti added.

Sarah Colborne, from the radical fringe group Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said it is the owners of Ahava who should be in court, “not just for their role in helping to cement an unlawful occupation, but for violating the Fourth Geneva Convention by exploiting the natural resources of an occupied territory for profit.”

Last month Hove Crown Court acquitted seven activists who broke into the factory of EDO MBM Technology near Brighton in January 2009 causing £200,000
worth of damage.

The activists admitted breaking in and causing the damage to the arms factory but were acquitted – despite video-taped interviews that outlined their intention to cause criminal damage and “smash up” the factory – after using the “lawful excuse” defense, committing an offense to prevent what they say was a more serious crime because EDO was “complicit in war crimes.”

The Judge in the case is currently being investigated by the Office for Judicial Complaints for comments he made in summing up the case.

Judge George Bathurst-Norman compared Israel’s action during Operation Cast Lead to the Nazi regime and commended the lead activist, saying he should be
awarded the George Medal – normally awarded for acts of civilian bravery. He also used language such as “war crimes,” “colonization” and “ethnic cleansing” to describe Israel.

“The British courts and government should resist in the strongest ways possible the attempts of small, fringe groups like these to politicize and hijack our legal system. A worrying trend can be observed where the courts are allowing disruptive and damaging behavior to go unpunished,” Sacerdoti said.


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