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April 08, 2007

Today's Hero

Neil Goodwin:

I arrived on time and found Neil dressed, flawlessly, as Charlie Chaplin’s tramp. He whispered: “I’m not supposed to talk, and my girlfriend says she’ll leave me if I get arrested many more times, but do you fancy going up to Downing Street?” He’d actually been in the cells the day before for holding up a sign by the Cenotaph that said: “You have the right to remain silent.”

Crowds of tourists seemed to think that he was some kind of official attraction and began to ask for photos as he hobbled up Whitehall with me in tow. Neil duly obliged. A few tried to give him money afterwards but he motioned them away. As we got nearer Downing Street he leant over to me and said: “Chaplin was the man, you know.” A few minutes later I began to understand exactly what he meant.

The tramp is not one of the most widely loved icons of cinema for nothing. Despite many of Chaplin’s films being over 70 years old and having had no major cinema release in generations, everyone still knows and loves his character. The tourists by the entrance to Downing Street laughed and clapped as Neil took up his spot outside the gates. They queued to have their photograph taken with him, but the police were not amused because he soon produced a sign from his rucksack that said “NOT ALOUD”, which because of the ludicrous nature of the government’s new Serious and Organised Crime and Police Act’s exclusion zone meant that he was breaking the law.

Within minutes an armed officer called over to him.

“You can’t stand there, mate. It’s illegal.” Neil shrugged as though he didn’t understand. The policeman tried again. “You can’t demonstrate.

Move along or you’ll get arrested.” The crowd of people began to boo at the policeman. “Doesn’t he have the right to remain silent?” I offered. The crowd laughed. The officer angrily looked at me.

“Are you trying to be funny, mate? Who are you? Are you with him?” I shook my head and he turned back to Neil, who was doing his best to look scared, which was drawing sympathetic noises from the crowd. One called out: “Leave him alone, he’s only standing there!” Someone else put in: “It’s a free country, isn’t it?” Neil shook his head with a rueful smile and the crowd began to applaud and cheer.

The policeman spoke into his radio. I decided to explain to everyone that because he hadn’t got permission from the police “Charlie” was breaking the law for holding an illegal demonstration. A man behind me laughed. “You’re joking, aren’t you, mate?” Others seemed astounded. One woman looked at me as though I was deranged. “You can’t be serious?” she said. “Protest can’t just be made illegal!”

The policeman rounded on me: “Look, who are you? Can you just move along?” I refused and pointed out that I wasn’t breaking the law. He became contrite and lowered his voice. “No, you’re not breaking the law, I’m just asking you out of courtesy if you’d move along because you’re adding to this disturbance.” I refused again and he said into his radio: “There are two of them holding an illegal demonstration. Can I have back-up?”

At this point, again to a vast array of boos from the crowd, another armed policeman emerged and asked Charlie his name and if he had any ID. A group of lads who looked like builders began to laugh, and one called out: “What’s his name? His name’s Charlie, you muppet!”

Again the swelling audience fell about. The policeman pleaded with Neil to move a few yards away to stop the crowd blocking the entrance to No 10. Charlie shuffled along, only for another two officers to approach him and ask again if he had any ID. Neil let go of his sign, revealing that it was chained to his wrist (so it wouldn’t get confiscated like the last one) — cue more laughter from the crowd — and began theatrically to look through his pockets. Eventually he found a scrap of paper which he unfolded as if he had all the time in the world and turned it's contents towards the crowd. “NO COMMENT” was written on it in large black letters.

There must have been 50 people at this point and they all began to cheer. Even the armed policeman laughed. “Well, he is funny, I’ll give him that.”

Two officers then ushered him a few yards down the street. Neil was given a piece of paper that outlined the exclusion zone and explained about section 132 of the Serious and Organised Crime and Police Act, which solicited a huge guffaw from sections of the crowd. The policemen told Neil that if he was still there in half an hour they would arrest him. Neil shrugged his shoulders.

Part of the crowd began to disperse. More tourists emerged and had their pictures taken, but none could believe that he was about to be arrested. One came over and chatted to me to learn what was going on. I explained that in a few minutes’ time Charlie was going to be taken to Charing Cross police station for holding his sign. The man was incredulous. “They can’t arrest you for just standing there, can they? What about our rights?”

He was about to see exactly what had happened to our rights. A police van pulled up, the two uniformed officers emerged, and Charlie Chaplin was read his rights and manhandled into the back of the van.

As he was carted off in a police wagon the funny side of Section 132 of SOCPA seemed to go with him. The crowds seemed unsettled, too. Their laughter gave way to bewilderment and shock. If only the architects of SOCPA and all the MPs who voted for it in parliament had been on hand to explain to us all why there was nothing sinister about a man dressed as Charlie Chaplin being arrested outside Downing Street for carrying a sign that said “NOT ALOUD”.

What bout our rights indeed? They've been stolen from us.

Fuck 'em, one and all and right royally.

Anyone got a job lot of gibbets?

April 8, 2007 in Law | Permalink


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Another part of the epitaph to our legacy from Blair.

Posted by: Bob B | Apr 8, 2007 12:45:15 PM

Truly a representative of the people - (bowler) hats off.

Meanwhile - might the troops be getting restless at last: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article1626768.ece

Posted by: Bethel | Apr 8, 2007 12:54:05 PM

The one comfort this time is that at least Charlie wasn't shot by the armed Police.

Posted by: Bob B | Apr 8, 2007 1:52:56 PM

There were a whole bunch of bits of no-longer-allowed-to-be-used kit in Portsmouth Royal Dockyard last time I was there.


Posted by: Surreptitious Evil | Apr 8, 2007 2:24:42 PM

Nothing sums up the depths to which Britain has sunk under Blair than this ban on free speech and the fact that so few heroes are prepared to stand up and fight for what should be an unarguable right. Perhaps in the future a proper government of the people will knight Neil Goodwin in recognition of his contribution to freedom.

Posted by: DocBud | Apr 9, 2007 8:18:52 AM

well i think we deserve our rights!!
Fuck 'em, one and all and right royally.

Posted by: Andrea Law | Apr 19, 2007 7:06:48 PM