On Saturday the 16th February I attended the STOP THE CUTS, SAVE OUR SERVICES march with approximately 1500 other people in Newcastle city centre. I had wanted to put across my views about the cuts that the Government have made and that Newcastle city council is implementing. I have been raising awareness of these issues within my own community of the Westend of Newcastle as a Youth Worker and local resident and have attended a number of council meetings to try and raise my concern about the £100 million budget cuts. As a youth worker working within the city I am particularly concerned about how the cuts will affect children and young people who are disproportionately affected by them (100% cut to youth & play services, tendering out youth provision plus young people are primary users of swimming pools, libraries, leisure, parks, etc) . I am also concerned about the council’s on-going plan to commission out funding for neighbourhood youth projects and services which had led to those projects competing against each other for funding and ultimately young people losing out as there are no open access services for them, less is spent on them, less accountability, young people have little or no say on how these services are delivered and youth services are being privatised by national organsations and companies concerned with profit above need.
I was with my 6 year old son on the day and decided to leave the rally at the end of the march before it finished as he was hungry. Before we left I found a homemade banner lying on the floor in front of the Monument with Nick Forbes face on it with model assembly style scissor cut lines on it and the slogan ‘cut here’. I thought that it was quite witty so I picked it up. My son also picked up another discarded banner which had a ‘Forbes Fibs’ slogan on it. My son wanted to keep it and although it was quite large and I had quite a few things to carry already I agreed to carry it for him. We then went to eat food on Northumberland Street. When we finished we came back past the Monument to see that most people had left and the marquee erected for the march was being taken down. I helped move some speakers into a van, and put the banners down.
I walked around the other side of the Monument where there were 5-6 people left. Someone said Nick Forbes; the head of the council, had just walked past the Monument. I asked Helen if she would look after my son for 2 minutes – she agreed. The banners I picked out previously had been added to a pile of banners. I picked them up and ran up Grainger Street and caught sight of Nick Forbes walking up near the corner of Nun Street with another person. I ran around the left hand side of Mr Forbes and held the banner with the ‘Cut here’ slogan on it in my hand approximately one meter away from Nick Forbes. I said to him, ‘Have you seen this’. Both he and the man who he was with turned around facing me. The man who was with him said, ‘Shall I ring the police?’ Mr Forbes then said, ‘Leave me alone.’ I said ‘you were made out to be a saviour in the Press today, when you’ve actually left your city out to dry’. (I was referring to the way Newcastle Council was portrayed positively in the press on Saturday because of concessions they appear to be making with their revised budget, when they are still implementing huge scale cuts and I understand the concessions are limited to 1 year.). Mr Forbes then said ‘Ring the police’. I was shocked that I was being threatened with having the police called on what was a minor comment from me. I ran away because I didn’t want to get arrested for making a minor remark and because I had left my son in supervision of a friend. As I went to run away the man with Mr Forbes said ‘Who’s the big man now then?’ Mr Forbes then said ‘I know who he is, he’s the man from’ and then he made reference to knowing where I work. I was annoyed by this as I had approached Mr Forbes in my spare time as an individual outside of my working hours. The whole incident lasted no more than approximately 40 seconds.
As I came past the Monument I dropped the banners off at the Monument and proceeded with my son to catch a bus home.
Later that evening the police arrived at my house at 10pm. They came and said that they wanted to arrest me on Section 4 of the Public Order Act under claims that I had been threatening and had used language that threatened the use of violence towards Mr Forbes. I was in the house with my son that night, who was already in bed. I asked the police if there was no way I could come to the police station the following day as I didn’t have anyone in the house to supervise me. I had to ring a friend to come and sit in my house and ensure my son’s safety whilst I was taken away, which I found distressing.
I was held for four hours. The police questioned me and after questioning I agreed to take a fixed penalty on a lesser charge of Section 5 of the Public Order Act (causing alarm, harassment or distress). I did this because I wanted to leave the police station and get back to my son as soon as possible and because I didn’t want to bring any backlash on my employer because I had been involved in an incident involving a public figure. Having had a chance to reflect on what happened I know that I have done nothing wrong. I approached a public figure who along with the rest of the Council is implementing cuts that will have devastating effects on the city I live and work in. He was walking past a place that moments ago had been a filled with people protesting and voicing their concerns about the policies of the Government, Newcastle City Council and Mr Forbes. I approached him to show him the banners that people had made because they weren’t impressed by the cuts that he and the council are pushing through, and asked him to make a brief comment. I didn’t expect to get shut down with the threat of involving the police for merely voicing my opinion, one that is shared by many other residents of the city and all those who had attended the March a few minutes earlier. If he and our other elected representatives wish to make such large scale cuts they must expect that people have the right to challenge and express their concerns. At no time did I swear, threaten violence towards or make any physical contact with Mr Forbes. Anyone who knows me will vouch that I am a peaceful person. The whole incident lasted for a matter of seconds. However, I had to go and justify myself to the police, leave my son without being able to explain to him what was happening and at risk of him waking up to my not being there and be locked in a cell for several hours for voicing my opinion. If Mr Forbes regarded my behaviour as harassment and causing of distress then I wish to reaffirm that that was not my intention. This did however create a deeply stressful situation for myself in which there was no consideration given to the concerns I had regarding leaving my son nor the context of the march which had just concluded.
I have posted back the penalty notice that was served to me to the police as I wish to contest these accusations and am waiting for a response for a summons for this matter to be dealt with in court.