By John Pegram, Bristol Copwatch founder, and caseworker
From September 2017 when I was wrongfully arrested for ‘Assault PC’ during a counter march to the EDL front group “Gays against Sharia” In Bristol to the malicious prosecution and crown court appeal that occurred the following year to a Judicial review, a high court appeal as well as being targeted by another 3 police forces it’s fair to say a lot has happened when it comes to me and my tumultuous relationship with the police. Between you and me, we’ve never got on.
I spent many of my teenage years through to my mid-twenties in and out of trouble with Hampshire police. In fact, I was stopped and searched between the ages of 16 to 27 In fact, so regularly the police used to address me by my first name. Speaking to my mum about those years she tells me that at one point I was stopped and searched almost every day.
I may not have been an angel back then, but I wasn’t always a bloody criminal. My earliest memory of being stopped by the police in Hampshire was being told I fitted the description of a suspected burglar. When asked what he looked like I was told he was mixed race. My dad hit the roof.
“It’s because he’s black!” I can still hear him like it was yesterday. It was the first time I knew I was being racially profiled. The police used to stop me for everything from riding on the pavement (is this your mountain bike son?) to walking down the wrong stretch of road (you don’t look like you come from round here).
When I was drawn into a cycle and finally found myself sent to prison for drug dealing in a nightclub my barrister accused the courts of sentencing me disproportionately. I’d been fined, received community orders but the police had kept coming and it felt like they wanted to make an example of me.
My friends and family had warned me where it was heading but back then I was being stopped so much, I decided that rebelling and being everything, the police said I was, would prove a point. The thing was, I was never very good at breaking the law.
When I saw what was happening to my life and the impact I was having on my family and those who cared about me the most I made my changes and never looked back. I broke the cycle before the cycle broke me for good. Even after I got myself back on the straight and narrow the police still never left me alone. It took martial arts to enter my life to prove my bully wrong and that people, even us mixed black boys do change.
“Stop and search the controversial police power” BBC 2019
I spent over 14 years with no convictions and had healed my life until September 2017 happened. I don’t regret taking a stand against a bunch of violent racists and I’d do it again if they came here tomorrow. In fact, after the wrongful conviction occurred in early 2018, I didn’t just appeal I carried on protesting. I think the following arrests that were then thrown out of court were a result of intelligence sharing.
I was arrested on a PACE search in London by BTP following the “Another world is possible” march in September of 2019 to protest the election of Boris Johnson whilst also fighting Avon and Somerset Police via a Judicial Review of the High court’s decision not to see my appeal to get the malicious “assault PC” conviction overturned.
This had followed a refusal to overturn the conviction in a crown court appeal the year before. The courts had ruled a verdict of “reckless conduct.” The case had become a civil matter and I was represented by Bindmans LLP. We won the JR and although the High court finally saw my appeal the wrongful conviction was upheld later that year. I’d made mistakes in the past but had never been convicted of something I hadn’t done.
The original “assault PC” case was a complex one so I won’t go into the ins and outs here but you can take a look at the High Court appeal on casemine here. I set a legal precedent If anything, I take some solace in that. Going back to the London arrest, the police had singled me out for a stop and search. I was the only person of colour in my group of friends. BTP claimed my Kubotan keyring was an offensive weapon.
They also said my face covering meant I was “equipped for theft” or by police logic no doubt preparing to steal hubcaps. The police threatened to put me “on the floor.” They timed how long it took me to call them racist in the van on the way to Islington police station.
When I did they cheered and claimed I had “broken the record.” At points the institutional racism of the police is as clear as day. The case was thrown out of the crown court due to a lack of evidence. (Kubotan keyrings are not a weapon per se. BTP sent mine back to me in the post.)
In November of 2019, I was in court again for an alleged section 14 breach countering a far-right march in Dewsbury. In fact, they weren’t just far-right they were Neo-Nazis hiding behind a “patriot” front group. I was arrested and taken off the street for standing on the wrong bit of pavement. This was also thrown out of court.
Comments were made by my solicitors that I was being targeted but I pressed onwards with my life and soaked up and outright ignored police and what seemed to be intelligence team harassment. In late 2021 I discovered the DPA breach that I am going to be fundraising to take legal action over.
The police admitted in court way back in 2018 that any contact with their officer who I was convicted of assaulting was “accidental” the court said it was “reckless.” I and my legal team knew it was a miscarriage of justice.
My PNC (Police National Computer) record shows the conviction despite now being spent as being the higher end of “Assault PC” not the lower end fine I received. Avon and Somerset Police state that I punched a cop in the face in the description of the event. If it happened, I would of received a custodial sentence. In fact, I’d still be in prison now.
Don’t get me wrong, any assault charge is not a good thing to have on your record. But it’s also not a good thing to allow altered or inaccurate data to sit on a national database for over 3 years. It’s the sort of information that comes up in intelligence briefings. It can influence decision-making right down to street level.
From 2018 to 2021 I was stopped several times by the police under various powers as well as harassed and surveilled. All these events have created trauma. I’ve drunk too much to cope, worn my heart on a sleeve with the wrong people, and buried my feelings so they can’t hurt me or anyone I care about ever again.
Most importantly I’ve kept fighting for justice. In the midst of all this, Bristol Copwatch was born, it is a community project and an independent police monitoring group that is for everyone. One thing I’ve come to understand is that the law is not meant to punish us forever even if the police want you to think it is.
I know that the police must abide by data protection legislation. To consistently harass and target anyone who takes a stand against their corrupt practices speaks volumes about community relationships with the police today. I’m living proof that people can change.
On the 2nd of February, I launch my CrowdJustice fundraiser to take legal action against Avon and Somerset Police over a 2018 DPA breach that has resulted in over 2 years of harassment. I’ve also complained to the ICO.
My PNC data must reflect the court’s finding of reckless conduct. Bindmans LLP will represent me and will issue a letter of claim to the police when funding is in place. (It’s tricky to get legal aid for data breaches at the best of times and unfortunately not eligible for this one which is why I am fundraising.)
I want to get my data rectified and seek compensation for the breach and the distress and trauma the police have created. Standing with me means winning with me. I know that I am not alone, and my story is yet another tale of racially and politically motivated misconduct by the police in Bristol.
It is unlawful for the police to target us based on previous criminal history. It’s unlawful but the police are vindictive, malicious, institutionally racist and must be held to account. I can see you, and this time around I really hope you can see me. Until there is justice, there can never be any peace.