To start with a bit of background. Last year SUWN activist Tony Cox was dragged through the courts after accompanying a vulnerable woman to the Jobcentre and correcting their interpretation of the rules. As their evidence of ‘threatening behaviour’ fell apart, the charges were dropped – but just before this was confirmed Tony was arrested again, this time attempting to accompany a woman to her Work Capability Assessment with Maximus and insisting on her right to be accompanied by a person of her choice. One might be tempted to think that the DWP and its subcontractors wanted to stymie effective advocacy…
This second court case came to trial today in Dundee.
We have heard evidence so far from three Maximus employees and watched the CCTV tape of the ‘incident’. The tape had no sound, but the Maximus witnesses added metaphorical speech bubbles to tell their story, attributing to Tony a variety of swear words. (Telling a convincing story is Maximus’ bread and butter.)
In his evidence, Tony explained that he had had problems with one of the Maximus assessors on a previous occasion when she claimed that he couldn’t take notes in the assessment, and then called the police when he protested and proved her wrong. This assessor was one of the three witnesses but was having major problems remembering what happened just 7 months ago, giving responses that bore little relationship to her original statement to the police.
The Maximus receptionist (who, of course, was ‘just doing her job’) had given the police a fulsome account of Tony’s aggressive demands for toilet paper, but she failed to make shit stick when this was compared to the CCTV video. However, she then slipped in an addition to the charges, claiming that at just the moment when he was out of the video frame, Tony pushed her. As Tony explained in his own answers, this was the moment when the receptionist was trying to ensure that he was shut out of the building leaving Fiona – the client who he was trying to help – inside to their tender mercies. Far from pushing anyone, he was attempting to keep the door open.
While it was a shock to have and addition to the charge that Tony had not been informed about, we were less concerned about the new CCTV footage that the Procurator Fiscal produced. After watching nothing happen outside the front door of the Maximus building for 10 minutes, the defence lawyer politely asked if we could be talked through what we were looking at, whereupon the Fiscal decided to stop the video.
The Fiscal turned far less amenable when questioning Tony. He did his best to rile Tony with persistent suggestions that he was just out to cause trouble. Tony refused to be riled, maintaining a professional calm as he explained that the SUWN wouldn’t do anything that would disrupt the processes people need to go through in order to get much needed benefits.
Although the Maximus evidence was riddled with contradictions, we were very aware that there are three of them, so the evidence from the woman Tony was accompanying was really important. She wasn’t called until about 3.30pm after waiting since 9.30 in the morning, and she was clearly completely overwhelmed by the formality of the court. Before Tony’s lawyer had asked any substantial questions she had broken down in tears and was unable to recover enough to continue. Rather than go ahead without key evidence, we had to ask for the case to be adjourned. We hope that, when it reconvenes on the 23rd she will feel able to give evidence via video link.
So much for the formal proceedings; but the action outwith the courtroom was equally worrying.
When we arrived, Tony was told by a court official that his lawyer wasn’t there and they had been contacted by the firm to find a local stand-in. It was a worrying 25 minutes before he found his lawyer and that story was put to bed.
Then a cheery policewoman called Tony aside to ask him about the speech he gave at our anti-workfare demo outside The Range, when he quoted allegations about sexual improprieties by management. A sensitive choice of moment.
When we got into the court, a police woman stopped me taking notes, claiming I needed permission from the sheriff. Permission was eventually forthcoming, and the policewoman was persuaded to apologise -claiming that she had not known that rules had been changed – but I still have a gap in my notes.
And perhaps most seriously, Tony’s lawyer was informed that a court officer had passed the sheriff a note saying that he suspected Tony of operating a recording device in his pocket when on the witness stand. Tony did indeed put his hand in his pocket, but only to pull out a handkerchief with which to mop an understandably sweaty brow.
Our conviction that Tony, and welfare activists generally, are the subject of a major attack by the state is only strengthened by today’s proceedings. As ever, we are proud to have comrades who recognise the importance of this case and of solidarity – including our good friends from Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty and the Glasgow Anarchist Collective, who joined us outside the court in Dundee, and the solidarity protestors in Govan, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Doncaster and Kilburn.
Glasgow Anarchist Collective made this video of the protest outside the court.