Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Free Frank Fernie- An Introduction.

Having never been to a march, a protest or a demo, or having never displayed an interest in politics, law, cuts, fees or activism, it was somewhat surreal to me to be sent this link from a friend who made it perfectly clear that this was something to be seriously concerned about:


It wasn’t until looking closer at these suspects that I realised that the first (rather un-complimentary) photo, in the second block of faces, was in fact one of my closest friends. A friend who, as far as I was aware, was of completely the same mindset as I have described above.

Frank Fernie has been one of my closest friends for the last 11 years. 70% of the laughter in my life has been traceable to his wicked misfortune and incomparable sense of humour.

Over the last 4 years, Frank has spent a huge part of his life caring for those less fortunate than him (often voluntarily) under the wing of several groups including Oxfam. Those who work with Frank recognise him as a natural born carer and those who he cares for would struggle to adapt to life without his help.

And so upon seeing Frank’s face in the newspapers and on the TV, I had to wonder what this was all about.

I was aware that Frank had attended the demonstrations in London on March the 26th.  I was aware that this was Frank’s first foray into activist life, having made the last minute decision to attend the protest in order to defend his right for a non- extortionate education (Frank was due to start University in September).

 What I had also been made aware of by Frank was the level of violence that he had become victim of at the hands of the police. Upon his return, Frank had serious difficulty walking, a cut head, and severe pain in his ribs that he suspected had been broken. Frank being Frank, he decided not to get this checked up. As far as my recollection serves me, it was over a month before Frank’s physical ailments had become unnoticeable.

Having never been exposed to such brutality by the police, I found it hard to believe what Frank was telling me. How, out of nowhere, Frank and the party he was with had been hit at maximum force with the full hand of police anti terrorism tactics- a tactic that I now recognise as kettling.

This may explain better than I can:
Frank is the man in red.

After hours of being assaulted in this way (the above photo is only one of a sequence), Frank retaliated. He retaliated in a way that any person under such stress would. Any honest person anyway. I for one, if put in Frank’s situation, can safely say I would not have acted in such a measured way. Through self defence and weariness of pain, Frank threw two picket signs at oncoming police officers. The picket signs were made of light wood and were targeted at police officers protected from the full force of riot. They were protected from bricks and breeze blocks, yet apparently, according to Judge Nicholas Price, these two sticks were damaging enough to be heartily rewarded with a 12 month custodial sentence, 200 miles away from friends and family.

The 2 sticks in question did not hit anybody. They did not hurt anybody. Yet in the words of Judge Price, it was important to ‘make an example’ of Frank to ‘deter others from acting in the same way’.

Good Job Price. That sure worked a treat.

Upon his return to York and seeing his face on the news, Frank (under recommendation) turned himself in. He spent two and a half months in uncertainty of his fate. As his friends and family we had no concern. How could anybody be given custodial for throwing two sticks when murderers and rapists seemingly get slapped arses and are back in society within 3 years in some cases?

How wrong we were.

The night before Frank went to London to his Crown Court date, I said goodbye to him in a manner that I would have on any other night. A, ‘see you soon’, type of goodbye, as if we would catch up in the pub in a couple of nights.

Under legal advice from people that shared our lack of worry, Frank pled guilty to violent disorder. We were all under the illusion that Frank could not be punished severely. With no previous offences and such a good background and a whole hearted acceptance and remorse of his actions, Frank was the textbook example of somebody the courts were designed to let off lightly. A prime candidate for community service, considering his previous lifestyle.

Judge Price did not feel the same way.

As far as I have been led to believe (with, as aforementioned, a minimal knowledge of law). It is the job of a Judge to do exactly that; to judge, whilst taking the facts into account.

I believe that it didn’t matter who Frank was. It feels like they put all of the defendants names in a hat and a load of custodial sentences in another. Then they sat around the boardroom table drinking expensive coffee and all sat round with stern faces playing this childish game, deciding what to have for dinner that evening.

If I seem harsh or cynical, please bear with me as I feel that the below explanation serves to explain such metaphors of absent minded thoughtlessness. If not thoughtlessness than certainly an equal lack of morality to the same level.

Had Judge Price acted as morally and professionally as his salary expects him to he would have reached this conclusion:

‘This boy is a benefit to society, he is remorseful (he is crying in front of me), he has never displayed any such sort of action before and it is glaringly obvious that he has learnt his lesson. He has a future ahead of himself and not only will he help himself do well, he will obviously be a person there to help others: to remove this man from society would be a joke, nobody will benefit, many will lose. Suspended sentence.’

Instead, this was the conclusion. (Please excuse the quote marks as this is not the words of Judge Price merely an interpretation of them from myself- I will attach his actual quote later in the blog):
‘This boy is a benefit to society, he is remorseful (he is crying in front of me), he has never displayed any such sort of action before and it is glaringly obvious that he has learnt his lesson. He has a future ahead of himself and not only will he help himself do well, he will obviously be a person there to help others: to remove this man from society makes perfect sense. Lets let the world know that it doesn’t matter who you are and how good your life may be, if you battle the messages of our government in an active way, we will cease to remove your right to be judged and punished as an individual. By sending that message, nobody will bother turning up to these ridiculous left wing nonsense protests. Everyone will stay at home and no one will get angry. 12 months imprisonment. Perfect’

It is a complete mockery of the judicial system. And you don’t need knowledge of law to see that. Just morals. Morals that are apparently becoming extinct among many. Morals that men of such power are being paid to forget. It is an outrage.

So many people have lost out through this decision. A glowing young man has lost his future. A family have lost their son as they remember him and hundreds have lost a source of humour and inspiration in their lives.

But more important than any of this, everyone in support of this campaign has lost something crucial. And I am certain that I don’t speak for purely my transformed self. We have all lost faith in a judicial system that, by design, is there to keep us safe. We have all lost faith in a government that is in place to protect us from such events. Are they really protecting us though? Or are they simply protecting themselves? Because it seems to me, through the naked and inexperienced eye, that protection by government definition seeks to ‘batter and beat the questions out of those daring enough to ask them’. It certainly appears that way when the police deal with peaceful protest. Peace often is better off smashed out with violence though I guess. Obviously.

Anyway. Whether we have wholly lost faith or not, we all certainly have to some extent. Why is there nobody in power to stop this happening? Maybe I’m off on a tangent... I don’t know. But I do know right and wrong. Let’s just hope that someone with the power to Free Frank Fernie can come down the same route and switch on the light bulb.

More Later.