[JURIST] A panel of the UK Law Lords [official website], the legal members of the House of Lords who constitute the UK's highest court, ruled [judgment] unanimously Wednesday that British police infringed the rights of anti-war protestors traveling to a demonstration [Fairford Coach Action website] outside a Royal Air Force base near Fairford, Gloucestershire, in March 2003 by stopping their buses, searching them, and then forcing them to return to London under heavy escort. The Court of Appeal had previously held [judgment] that the police had acted unlawfully in making the stop, but had not breached the protestors' rights. Police lawyers argued that the stop was justified by concern for the lives and safety of the protestors, which might have been put at risk had they broken into the airbase.
Lord Carswell wrote:
The police were obviously justified in regarding the coaches and their occupants with a considerable degree of suspicion, in view of the identity of some at least of the passengers, the items found on the coach and the refusal of many of the passengers to reveal their names and addresses. The problem which faced them was that the actuality did not match up to the intelligence received. If the coaches had been packed with hard-line anarchists, the police might have been fully justified in ensuring that they did not get any nearer to Fairford, even if there had been a few more peaceable passengers on board. When it became apparent at 12.45 pm or thereabouts that there was a very mixed bunch of people on the coaches, many of whom did not present any potential threat to the peace, and the identified Wombles members were a small minority, it was incumbent on the police to review their strategy in relation to these coaches. I have to agree with your Lordships that they should at this stage have given consideration to whether the coaches could have been allowed to proceed to Fairford and any necessary further action taken there in the light of events which were taking place and the conduct of the passengers from the coaches. Before doing so they might have reduced the risk of breach of the peace by removing the known Wombles members and all the suspect items from the coaches at Lechlade.The Press Association has more.