#DI: Holding the court in contempt

(a personal account of the proceedings against Emma West)
“You ain’t English. No, you ain’t English either. You ain’t English. None of you’s f***ing English.”

“You ain’t English. No, you ain’t English either. You ain’t English. None of you’s f***ing English.”

Few countries have contributed more to the modern idea of justice than Britain, whose ancient court procedures and conventions have influenced those of practically every other nation in the world.

Which is why the press reports recounting the guilty plea delivered ‘finally’ in the London borough of Croydon by Emma West on Monday, are so noteworthy.

Particularly after an eighteen month process during which reporting on her continual protestations of innocence, and her treatment at the hands of the UK’s court system, was a criminal offence punishable by up to a month in prison.

West, 34, became the subject of international infamy back in November of 2011 when camera phone footage of her confrontational and expletive ridden comments on London’s transport network, as she balanced a confused toddler on her knee, hit the internet with such force that they were watched by over 11 million people in just a few days.

Such was the fascination elicited on Twitter by West’s refusal to accept that the people from around the world who surrounded and outnumbered her, on an obviously intoxicated ride home on a Croydon tram, had a claim to national identity equal to her own by virtue of their physical location, that a hash-tag was spawned as a result: #MyTramExperience.

The hash-tag like the comments section under the YouTube video (the original was taken down), was the scene of a chilling eruption of threats of murder, rape and mutilation against West and her child the likes of which Britain had never witnessed. This phenomenon in turn acquired its own neologism: a twitch-hunt; as an unseen race took place between the users of the micro-blogging site to track down and visit who-knows-what on West, even as the police themselves hurried to find and charge her for her speech crime.

This cacophony of easily traceable threats, millions of genuine cases of blood curdling incitement to violence in fact, were on a scale utterly beyond the capacity of the police and criminal justice system to cope with: so they chose not to. The prosecution of one self-evidently mentally disturbed woman however seemed much more manageable by comparison. And when neither a second, nor third, nor fourth, nor fifth, nor sixth court proceeding succeeded in being quite as straightforward as the participants anticipated, the reporting restrictions imposed by Judge Warwick McKinnon conveniently placed the entire affair beyond the realm of public scrutiny.

These restrictions were of course ostensibly put in place for the protection of the vulnerable defendant; and not the figures who somehow found it impossible within Europe’s most established system of justice, to try a woman for an offence for which the punishment was at most a fine or a community order; in a greater length of time than it took to investigate, charge, prosecute, imprison and release a minister of the crown guilty of perverting the course of justice.

The fact that the enormous and insurmountable difficulties which successively prevented matters from proceeding to everyone’s satisfaction for nearly two years, simply melted away when the prospect of a jury trial disappeared through West’s admission of guilt; and the relaxing of the certainty of prosecution for contempt of court for publicly recounting the court’s proceedings, which coincided with it; is something that appears in none of the press accounts of Monday’s guilty plea. Unsurprising as they are all based on the work of the local Croydon court reporter, Gareth Davies.

It was noticing the hurried and nervous deletions by Mr Davies of previous revelations online of the process punishment that was being meted out to West, that led me to travel to Croydon in April to witness events with my own eyes.

In a country replete with human rights organisations and charities purportedly dedicated to the defence of freedom of opinion, not a single civil rights group apart from The Discourse Institute showed the remotest interest in focusing on Emma West’s case. The research and investigation of those who by no more than their utterances end up losing human rights, doggedly defended when possessed by others who incite terrorist murder for example, is a pursuit in which only we specialise in Europe; but one nevertheless fascinating for what it reveals about the character of politicians, lawyers, judges and the media.

Other facts deemed equally superfluous to reports of the case included the successive, not singular suicide attempts by West. Her nervous breakdowns, pre-video mental history, and the expression by psychiatrists that she would never be fit to stand trial. The assaults alluded to by her defence counsel Mr David Martin-Sperry, in which random strangers would approach West in the street punching her in the face with such force that she was felled to the ground,  and her resulting refusal to leave her home unaccompanied. The taking of her children into care following the video. The threats by extremists to burn her house down. The in court admissions that the reporting restrictions were necessary specifically to curtail the political momentum, that was surrounding the case.

The resolute determination to persist from the CPS, an organisation famous for dropping prosecutions for the flimsiest of reasons in order to lighten their caseload, even though that precise same immense London caseload led to the counsel I witnessed, being utterly unfamiliar with the documents submitted by the defence.  And of course, the good natured joshing between both advocates even as they discussed the extent to which West was being genuinely ‘persecuted’ – their words, not mine – by the state.

The frustration that seeped from every participant in the process, be they on West’s side against her or allegedly impartial, self-evidently stemmed from how all were being required again and again to return to the matter as a result of the defendant’s then perpetual refusal to enter the right plea.

None of the above featured in Gareth Davies’s reporting, such was his hurry to rush out copy highlighting West’s ‘hurling of racial abuse’ almost two years after it took place, that he failed either to notice or describe the historic travesty of Soviet proportions that had been taking place ever since under his very nose.

A woman who virtually everyone agreed was mentally ill, had to be kept from public view for 18 months by Britain’s criminal justice system, until she admitted her guilt for engaging in nothing more than two minutes and twenty-six seconds of offensive and disturbing public heresy: with nobody so much as batting an eyelid in the process. I imagine Mr Davies will go far.

Atop all this sat the pompous and hypocritical cowardice of the presiding judge, as he sought to personally extricate himself from any embarrassment by just making the case continue and continue until West finally succumbed, so as to enable all those involved to bring the controversy to an end.

‘The press will be able to report everything you wish to, once there has been a conclusion to proceedings: but not just yet,’ were remarks from the judge that I noted at the session I observed. Such was the total lack of self-awareness by Judge McKinnon, the Recorder of Croydon, that the only thing permitting the farce to continue at all, were the measures put in place by himself prohibiting its public examination.

I spent a full day in the courthouse in which His Honour  is the senior jurist, noticing not only how non-English names like my own dominated 85 per cent of the cases, but also the English ethnicity of the vast majority who could be bothered to turn up for jury duty. I heard too the judge himself bemoaning the extent to which benefit fraud cases dominated his docket in the case I observed preceding West’s, the swift conviction of a Caribbean fraudster, in a way that made it impossible not to conclude that he was commenting from his own privileged vantage point, on the precise same phenomenon West herself had discomfitingly pointed to in her own confused and expletive peppered inarticulacy.

Western European nations have a problem. It is a problem no politician has ever had the nerve to speak frankly about, because they know that doing so would constitute electoral suicide. For some time the people have had an all-consuming addiction to free stuff.

The welfare states created in the baby boom years which followed the Second World War are a unique phenomenon made possible only by a specific and fragile economic model. Experts tell us that when it comes to pensions, for example, for public provision to be possible at all there have to be four people engaged in taxable labour to sustain each single person in retirement.

By the end of the1980s in countries like Britain, a greater proportion of the population were approaching a non-income taxable phase of their lives, even as they demanded that politicians provide precisely what they had been promised as their due their entire lifetimes. There was only one way to keep the Ponzi scheme going: more people.

Everybody who gains from them, simply adores the economic benefits which have resulted from the population transformations which are a consequence of the porous borders now possessed by countries which once had some of the most geographically settled and stable populations in the whole of recorded human history; even as they strive to distance themselves from the social consequences that inevitably result, so epitomised by West’s trial.

In Britain’s case more people come to the shores of this small island every two years, than have landed on it combined since it was originally populated in the Stone Age. You can see it by visiting any of the hospitals in London, or its schools. Or by travelling on public transport, in parts of the capital outside zones made monoethnic by those capable of making the economic choice to live there. A choice not usually possessed by the poor, the old, or the mentally unbalanced like Emma West.

However, enabling immigration on a scale so vast that the English were turned into a minority in their own capital city, was contingent on redefining what had previously been a characteristic of identity so prized that people willingly sacrificed their lives for it, namely, their nationality; reducing it instead to a token called citizenship, that was solely in the largesse of the state to confer or define.

It was necessary to utterly erase the idea that individuals whose ancestors had built, fought for, striven in, or farmed a country for generations had any greater claim to national identity than someone like myself, the son of foreigners. Not only was it essential that the truism be made taboo that people like me would by definition have a more tenuous link of patriotism, faithfulness and identity to our host countries and her customs and conventions; it would also be necessary to make illegal any public statement which might undermine public order by drawing attention to the fact.

To be clear what we are talking about is a reality that Judge McKinnon not only witnesses in his courtroom every day, but one which the English system of common law uniquely empowered him to act upon in West’s case; had he been bothered to do so that is. But in courtrooms across the European continent, electoral realities have necessitated making human nature illegal.

The astonishing thing about the ‘My Tram Experience’ video was the extent to which anyone was remotely surprised by it. It is inevitable that different people will engage in conflict, the word diversity comes from the same root as divisive, for a reason. Moreover for decades an immense number of commentators have been telling anyone in the UK who will listen, that being a minority is the most miserable and disadvantageous fate that any human being unfortunate enough to be born part of one, could ever hope to suffer in a country like Britain; even as they condemn the likes of West for having the insane temerity not to skip with joyous abandon into demographic obscurity.

It is actually quite impossible to imagine the author of the most profound change of national identity that England had ever previously seen, the Reformation, being so detached from reality as to think himself capable of controlling what was said by drunken women in his kingdom. But Henry VIII, despite being convinced of no less than a divine right to rule, never possessed a real estate portfolio whose continued profitable growth was directly proportional to the maintenance of immigration-driven demand in the South East of his country. The same cannot be said of the MPs who promote the laws under which West and those like her are now prosecuted; in this light their hubris is a lot easier to understand.

Because far from deterring any repetition of her crime, cases like West’s have followed thick and fast and with increasing frequency. The videos of ranting Englishwomen on public transport all share uncannily similar qualities. The incidents which precede the outbursts are never shown, the women are invariably drunk, and public outrage swells to a crescendo when it is discovered that they are mothers. I’ve never seen one and not thought of a person drowning. Watching them you begin to understand why people once felt justified in burning witches: it’s that awkward, stubborn, nagging female voice, scratching its nails down the blackboard of a society, making everyone wince with pain at a reality that people would much rather not look at.

In West’s case it was her guilt for a crime that nobody had the nerve to charge her with, but which was nevertheless the real reason why she simply had to be prosecuted. Namely, endangering the safety of the young boy that was sat on her lap. The thorny problem being that admitting as much would run the risk of validating precisely the fears that people wished to classify as deranged.

In 2011 London was a city which had just experienced the most widespread public disorder that it had ever known in the modern era, the last thing anyone wanted was the prospect of yet another conflagration erupting. Particularly not as a result of footage of a mother and child ending up online showing them being beaten, because the tram in question might just have had slightly more people on it possessed of all those bloodthirsty views expressed on Twitter and YouTube, the ones so widespread that the police just didn’t have the resources or the willingness to do anything about.

It was never what actually happened on that Croydon tram on a November evening that necessitated West’s arrest and prosecution, but what might have happened had she not been made an example of, and what anyone who views the video can see came very close to happening. That of course, and the fact that inciting hatred and violence against oneself, is not actually a crime.

George Igler
George Igler
Originally a City-based political analyst and strategist, our Director came to free speech issues after conducting client-focused research into both political and religious extremism. Feeling that scrutiny, exposure and information were far more effective weapons in combating radicalism than state-mandated silence, he established the Discourse group in 2011.