For a background to this post, read my article, Linda Bellos and Venice Allan. A case to answer?
It was likely that wading through the endless reams of paperwork might take the court some time (ie all day) so we had planned to have a demo with banners waiting when Linda and Venice came out of court, which we weren’t expecting to be before 4pm.
It seemed like a good idea to set up a public event group on Facebook to help keep people up to date with the plans. Not by coincidence, Let A Woman Speak’s sell-out ‘RadFem 101’ meeting was being held nearby that evening. Many people were making a day of it and coming up to London from places as far afield as Plymouth and Leeds. It seemed like a good idea to establish somewhere that those who wanted to could meet for lunch. A quick Google search threw up the Metropolitan Bar, a Weatherspoons next door to Baker Street, ‘Cavernous, cask marque accredited pub with traditional bar food menu and hotel lobby style’. Sounded ideal. No need to book or give an idea of numbers; cheap and classy and so completely huge that it could easily accommodate us. That way supporters could be outside the court when it suited them, & we could have drinks, food and a catch up in the middle of the day. At 3pm, a large group of us could go to the court with banners & be there en masse to greet Venice & Linda when they came out. I suggested those who wanted to should meet there at 1pm.
So I was planning to catch up on some sleep, have a nice lie-in and go straight to the bar for lunch. I’m not, nor have I ever been, a morning person. I was messing around on Twitter and stroking a cat when my phone rang at about 11pm.
“’I’ve heard some transactivists are planning to turn up in the morning.” said Venice, “Early, like 9am. The press might be there too. If people are coming to support us, it would be great if they could come then. Can you change the time in the event group?”
I changed the details in the Facebook event group and called a super-powered mumsnetter and asked her to put a message out. I knew some people were coming from hours away, or had planned to travel offpeak, others had to drop kids at school. We passed the message round- WhatsApp is your friend- as quickly as we could and hoped enough people would be able to change their plans. If the case looked like taking all day, we could go for lunch at the Metropolitan and come back. And who knows, maybe it wouldn’t take so long. It might even get thrown out. I kept my fingers crossed.
The morning of the case, the event group was full of messages of support:
It was dark when my alarm went off. It was still dark when it went off for the second time. I dressed and drank orange juice in a cold kitchen while the rest of the house slept. Even the cats didn’t stir as I filled a flask with coffee and slipped out of the front door into the cold morning air. The sun had risen, in a dull, grey sort of manner, by the time I joined the silent and despondent commuters on the thankfully short trip into town.
It was shortly before nine when I arrived at Westminster Magistrates Court. I turned the corner into the courtyard, half expecting to see a swathe of pastel pink and blue banners and hair, but the transactivists that had been planning to counter-protest had obviously decided to stay snuggled under their duvets on this chilly November morning. Instead I saw a group of women and several banners.
Let A Woman Speak are ‘a bunch of ordinary women who decided we had to do something’ who have a simple mission statement, “We want to let women speak.’ The founding women are a bloody brilliant bunch who have my greatest admiration. (The event they ran later that evening was fantastic, look out for my next blog post.) You can visit their website here where you can read how Let a Woman Speak was born. “It wasn’t easy, but then women’s labour never is.”
Object’s mission statement is this: “OBJECT campaigns against the sexual objectification of women and the oppression of women as a sex class. OBJECT takes action founded on understanding. OBJECT promotes understanding of the objectification and oppression of women from a radical feminist perspective.”
OBJECT has an excellent website that is a treasure trove of information and resources. You can visit it here.
Two police officers came over and asked if we were alright, which seemed a rather strange question. We assured them that we weren’t going to start any trouble and they seemed soothed.
So we all chatted for a while and more supporters arrived… and soon Venice and Linda arrived at the court with their legal bods and a few friends and family members.
We cheered and waved as they went in. Now we just had to wait. Over the next hour more people arrived and conversation bubbled through the courtyard.
I noticed that an LGBT Officer had turned up. He had rainbow stripes on the badge on his arm and was explaining that the LGBT division went anywhere there might be LGBT hate crime. He was very civil and polite but extremely formal, perhaps even a bit defensive. With a shock I suddenly realised that he probably saw us as the bad guys.
I wondered if that was true, or if maybe he could also see the situation from the perspective of Linda, a lesbian who was in court because she had said she would defend herself against an attack from a transactivist. I wondered if he knew that at least one of the women present, Maria, had been attacked by a transactivist. I wondered if he realised that a lot of the women there were lesbians and that many of them felt that the very language that defined them was being attacked. I wonder if he had really thought about where the hate might be coming from.
“The current ideology demands that lesbians should accept male bodies- men with penises- who identify as lesbians” one woman told me, “but there’s no space in my romantic or sexual life for a penis.”
Someone told me their friend worked with children leaving care and that one girl had been told by her social worker that she might want to consider ‘sex work’ to bring in some money.
Another told me about their own child, old enough to transition at university but young enough to still bring their washing home to mum at the weekend.
One woman spoke about her fears that women’s single sex spaces would be erased altogether. “We’ve carved out a tiny space,” she moved her hands close to her coat, tracing the shape of an orb, “and we’re not allowed to keep it.”
“It’s male entitlement to harass and bully women using the court system.” observed April.
“It’s male pattern litigiousness,” agreed May. “You see it with men trying to get custody of kids.”
“There’s that guy in Canada, trying to sue the women who didn’t want to wax his balls.” added June.
“Who would even want their balls waxed?” wondered July, aghast.
Someone made a gagging noise and we all laughed. Then we heard a murmur over by the main entrance and Maria came out with the news, “It’s been thrown out!”
The judge had received notice from the CPS that they were dropping charges. It was ruled that there was no case to answer and therefore no need for Venice & Linda to be sitting in the dock. The prosecution had unsuccessfully called for the judge to recuse himself and was still evidently waxing eloquent in the court room, but Linda and Venice should be out soon and would be putting in an order for costs and applying for a non-molestation order.
How we cheered.
“I’m delighted.” Maria told me. “This is just a completely typical act of bullying on the side of transactivists who are waging a war on women. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that it got thrown out.”
Eventually Venice and Linda left the court and as they passed through the doors a cry of ‘self defence, no offence’ rose up and morphed into cheers as Venice threw her arms in the air with a huge grin on her face.
Reza Pashazadeh of Ennon & Co stepped forward and spoke to the crowd.
“I represented Linda Bellos and Venice Allan today. The prosecution should never have been brought at all. As you know, the CPS have taken this case over and decided to discontinue it today. It’s absolutely the correct result: we are delighted for Linda and for Venice.”
Venice beckoned the crowd to move closer and Linda spoke.
“This has already cost a lot of public time, not just our time. The court’s. They could have been pursuing cases of rape against women- amongst other things. I think they’re dealing with someone who is not very well and we I don’t think we should should make personal attacks but the politics of this strand of trans is worrying. Being a woman is more than wearing silly dresses and wearing your hair long. It’s about our history of oppression. We don’t claim to be women because we like bloody make up! It’s about 100 years only of being able to vote in this country and still some women in the world still are not. Women are being murdered in the world every day because we are women. This is the reality. And I think that this person is trivialising what it means to be a woman. That’s why I’m angry. That’s why I made a statement a year ago about a violent attack which had already been done to a woman. I guess I’m relieved, but perhaps I’m also inspired by how many women care about women’s issues and I think it’s time for us to revisit the Women’s Liberation Movement.”
This met a cheer before Venice added, “I’d just like to thank our amazing legal team for all their hard work. It’s really paid off. So many times in this debate we’re faced with such unfairness but today we’ve got some justice and I’m really grateful to you all for coming and supporting us, and I’m also grateful to the prosecutor for bringing all this out in the open and hopefully it will get reported in the press and people will be talking about it. That actually you can’t use private prosecutions to harass people- and hopefully this will put an end to it.”
So there we have it. In the current climate of silencing women, when women are losing their platforms, not only in universities and at events, but on social media and in the blogesphere, this decision is not only important for Venice Allan and Linda Bellos, but for all of us who support women’s rights and free speech.
Time to go to the Metropolitan! And oh, what a glorious place it is! A Spoons it may be, but it’s a stylish place. Paintings, pillars, wood and brass, the most spectacular women’s toilets I’ve visited in a while- and a vegetarian breakfast, two pints of soda with lime and a bottomless cup of coffee will leave you change from a tenner.
Venice broke open a bottle of champagne.
“You know what?” she said, raising her glass. “I’m never going to mention that man’s name again. I’m just going to ignore him, that’s what narcissists hate.”
“Detailed representations were made to the CPS inviting them to exercise their statutory powers to take over and discontinue the prosecution on the grounds that neither the evidential sufficiency or interests of justice test of the Code for Crown Prosecutors were met, that it was a politically motivated and vexatious prosecution, and that Giuliana Kendal was incapable of fulfilling her duties as a prosecutor in a fair and impartial manner. Today the CPS took over the prosecution and discontinued it.”