Home > Afghanistan, Iraq, The War on Terror, UK Politics, US Politics > Protest in peace, Brian Haw. May you always be remembered.

Protest in peace, Brian Haw. May you always be remembered.

Peace campaigner Brian Haw has died after “a long hard fight” against lung cancer, his family has announced.

In June 2001 Brian Haw set up Parliament Square to protest against UK and US foreign policy towards Iraq.

Initially, the protest was against the sanctions against Iraq. His vigil started after seeing the images and information produced by the Mariam Appeal, an anti-sanctions campaign. Haw justified his campaign on a need to improve his children’s future. He only left his makeshift campsite in order to attend court hearings, surviving on food brought by supporters and well-wishers.

He later extended the protest to include opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The protest became part of the scenery of London, despite numerous attempts to remove him and the posters. Among the artwork displayed was a Banksy stencil of two soldiers painting a peace sign and Leon Kuhn’s anti-war political caricature 3 Guilty Men. It was a symbol of protest for a decade.

Westminster City Council attempted to prosecute Haw for causing an obstruction to the pavement in October 2002 but the case failed as Haw’s banners did not impede movement. The continuous use of a megaphone by Haw led to objections by Members of Parliament who have offices close to his protest. The House of Commons Procedure Committee in 2003 heard evidence that claimed permanent protests in Parliament Square could be used by terrorists to disguise explosive devices, and resulted in a recommendation that the law be changed to prohibit them.

The Labour Government passed a provision banning all unlicensed protests, permanent or otherwise, in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (sections 132 to 138); however, because Brian Haw’s protest was started before the Act was passed his protest a judicial review ruled that his protest could not be banned on a retroactive basis.

The Government appealed to the Court of Appeal, which decided “that Parliament intended that those sections of the Act should apply to a demonstration in the designated area, whether it started before or after they came into force. Any other conclusion would be wholly irrational and could fairly be described as manifestly absurd”.

While the Government was appealing the decision, Haw made his protest compliant with the Serious and Organised Crime act by applying for permission to protest. The police granted the application but only on condition that his display of placards was no more than 3 m wide.

Brian Haw's anti war protest

In the early hours of 23 May 2006, 78 police arrived and removed all but one of Haw’s placards citing continual breached conditions of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 as their reason for doing so. This police operation against one man cost over £27,000.

The police prosecuted for his breach of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. Brian refused to enter a plea. The Court entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf.

Haw was acquitted on the grounds that the conditions he was accused of breaching were not sufficiently clear, and that they should have been imposed by a police officer of higher rank. District Judge Purdy ruled: “I find the conditions, drafted as they are, lack clarity and are not workable in their current form.”

The placards were returned.

In January 2008, seven people were arrested, outside the Downing Street gates, including Brian Haw because they were protesting the Serious and Organised Crime Act.

He was injured, while “filming the students lying down in the road when one officer stepped forward, as I was walking back, and pushed the camera with his hand. It struck my face.” He added that he was “dragged” by police into a police van, who pushed “my head close to the ground with my arms handcuffed high above my back”.

In May 2010, Mr Haw was charged with obstructing police during searches of tents on the green. Speaking after a court appearance, he set out his intention to remain in the square for the rest of his life.

The Conservative Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, won a possession order to evict Mr Haw and other campaigners from Parliament Square Gardens, which is owned by the Greater London Authority (GLA). He moved the protest on to the pavement, which is owned by Westminster City Council.

The driving force of his protest was his love of his own family. He said the children of Iraq and other countries were “every bit as valuable and worthy of love as my precious wife and children”.

“I want to go back to my own kids and look them in the face again, knowing that I’ve done all I can to try and save the children of Iraq and other countries who are dying because of my government’s unjust, amoral, fear – and money-driven policies,”

The whole of the British government, from the Mayor of London to Parliament and the Courts could not silence that message. He will be missed and never forgotten.

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