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‘The group have been saying, “Kill him, kick him to demise”’: what occurred to the individuals who protested towards King Charles? | King Charles coronation

Symon Hill was strolling again from church on a sunny autumn Sunday when he realised his route was blocked; the roads round Carfax Tower in Oxford have been closed off. It was 11 September, the day after Charles Windsor had been formally proclaimed King Charles III in London, and native occasions have been being held nationwide. This ceremony, organised by the council, typified the pomp and pageantry. Hill is a quiet, considerate man of 46, however it doesn’t take a lot to rile him on the subject of the monarchy. He was wanting ahead to spending the afternoon stress-free along with his housemates of their backyard, and now he was caught in a celebration he considered archaic and irrelevant.

Hill is a Christian, historian, pacifist, trainer, author, activist and republican. At the beginning of the ceremony, which centered on the queen’s demise, he was silent: “I wouldn’t interrupt anyone’s grief.” However when “they declared Charles rightful liege lord, and acknowledged our obedience to him as our solely king”, Hill had heard sufficient. “I discover this language very demeaning, and I known as out ‘Who elected him?’” To his astonishment, he discovered himself surrounded by safety, arrested and ultimately charged beneath the Public Order Act 1986.

Hill’s arrest made the newspapers. Not as a result of his had been an excessive or dramatic protest, however as a result of it had been so delicate. How might it have resulted in a legal cost? On the identical day, a 22-year-old lady who allegedly held a placard studying “Fuck imperialism, abolish monarchy” was arrested in Edinburgh for breach of the peace. Extra overt types of protest additionally made headlines. One younger man chucked 5 eggs on the new king and, regardless of his failure to hit his goal, he was additionally charged with a public order offence.

Maybe probably the most alarming story to emerge was that of a barrister threatened with arrest after holding up a clean piece of paper outdoors parliament. It felt like one thing we would examine in China or Russia. (Certainly, a few months later Chinese language protesters used clean items of paper to protest towards the nation’s zero-tolerance Covid coverage in what folks known as the A4 revolution.) What was occurring to Britain and its a lot vaunted democracy? Within the days after the queen’s demise, as TV stations cancelled common programming and sombre music was performed on the radio, solely supine monarchism appeared acceptable.

Hunwell and I meet in a Wetherspoon pub in Oxford the place he orders a non-alcoholic beer. He bears a resemblance to Mole in The Wind within the Willows – small, bespectacled, flat-capped, scrupulously well mannered and type. Hill tells me it was his childhood that radicalised him. He was born right into a working-class household within the Midlands. When he was six, his mom grew to become housekeeper to a rich, aristocratic couple: “We lived in what would have been known as a servants’ cottage again within the day.” He admits his recollections are partial, however some are nonetheless so clear – being allowed to play with the employer’s canine as if it have been a deal with; the benign patrician taking down a glass of wine to his mom within the kitchen and telling her to not point out it to his spouse, who would disapprove. “It made me conscious of inequality. As a toddler, you don’t perceive why one lady ought to be a housekeeper and one other ought to have a housekeeper. I nonetheless don’t.”

Hill’s activism has all the time been sure up along with his Christianity, a lot of his objection to monarchy derived from his religion: “I don’t perceive how a Christian can comply with a proclamation declaring anyone apart from Jesus to be our solely king. I attempt to dwell by my religion on a regular basis,” he provides, and reddens barely. “Clearly I usually don’t handle that. However issues like making an attempt to like your neighbour is a type of activism for me.” He’s the writer of The No-Nonsense Information to Faith and The Upside-Down Bible.

Hill had not deliberate to protest on the proclamation however stumbled into it. How loud was his heckle? “Loud sufficient for the folks close to me to listen to. However I do know they couldn’t hear it on the entrance as a result of the Oxford Mail reported an vague heckle.” Did he say something impolite? Hill seems to be appalled. “A few folks informed me to close up,” he says. He would most likely have walked away and located an alternate route dwelling if he hadn’t been stopped by safety guards – or crowd administration providers, because the police later known as them. “One informed me to be quiet. I requested what authority he had to try this and he mentioned, ‘You can be arrested for breach of the peace.’ I mentioned, ‘I’m not doing something unlawful, I’m simply expressing an opinion. When you can have anyone proclaim in favour of monarchy, I’m talking towards it.’”

Hill known as out one thing else to make his level: “One thing like, ‘Let’s not bow right down to our equals.’ Then the safety guards pushed me backwards. I assumed they have been going to knock me over. Because the band began enjoying God Save the King, the police rushed in and mentioned to the safety guards, ‘We’ve received this’ or, ‘We’ve received him’, one thing like that.” Hill is fastidious in regards to the info to the purpose of pedantry. “Then the police grabbed me, twisted my arms again and handcuffed me.”

As he was led to the van, two folks challenged the police. “They have been each pro-monarchy, middle-class. They mentioned, ‘Effectively, I don’t agree with him however certainly he’s received a proper to freedom of speech?’ They walked behind the police difficult them, which I actually appreciated.”

Symon Hill, who was arrested for asking who elected King Charles, standing in front of a church door
‘I’d actually mentioned a few sentences on the street’: historian Symon Hill, arrested for asking who elected King Charles. {Photograph}: David Levene/The Guardian

When Hill was put behind the van, he requested on what grounds he had been arrested. An officer admitted he didn’t know. The entire thing was a farce, Hill says. “They didn’t have a clue. It’s an vital precept that should you’re going to have rule of regulation and democracy and human rights, you’ve freedom from arbitrary arrest.”

He says it was extra alarming than the three earlier events he had been arrested for protesting. In 2013, he was amongst a bunch of Christian activists charged with aggravated trespass after blocking an entrance to a London arms honest by kneeling in prayer. “We have been discovered not responsible on a technicality as a result of the police hadn’t learn the warning within the correct approach earlier than arresting us. The second time I used to be not charged; the third time the fees have been dropped. On all these events I wasn’t stunned to be arrested. This time I used to be gobsmacked. I don’t suppose I’m naive about police behaviour, however I’d actually mentioned a few sentences on the street.”

Hill was then de-arrested with out clarification and pushed dwelling by the police. He was later invited to a voluntary interview. He declined, however when it grew to become obvious it wasn’t fairly so voluntary, he went to the police station along with his solicitor. He was informed one of many safety guards had alleged assault. “I used to be anxious as a result of assault is an imprisonable offence.” On 22 December, he was charged with breach of the Public Order Act – a cost that was dropped two weeks later, once more with no clarification.

How did he really feel? “Part of me was barely dissatisfied I wouldn’t get the prospect to make the case in court docket, however a a lot greater half was relieved.” He smiles. “There’s a stereotype of activists that we wish as a lot confrontation and publicity as attainable. And, sure, I’m prepared to make an argument in court docket, however I’d somewhat be at dwelling with a cup of tea.”

Hill – who’s contemplating bringing a case of illegal arrest towards Thames Valley police, with the help of human rights group Liberty – has been stunned by how a lot consideration the incident obtained. “There are issues I’ve carried out which have required much more effort and braveness that have gotten rather a lot much less curiosity.” On social media, there have been 1000’s of incendiary feedback. Conservative councillor Andrew Schrader tweeted: “To the tower with you, you dour grump.” However there has additionally been help, and Hill is conscious that for some he represents the appropriate face of protest. “What’s been fascinating is how a lot my Christian religion has been talked about. They’re eager to stress what a traditional, respectable particular person I’m – a historical past lecturer in his 40s, strolling dwelling from church. However it wouldn’t have been any extra acceptable to arrest anyone else.”

File photo dated 09/11/22 of police detaining protester Patrick Thelwell after he appeared to throw eggs at King Charles III and the Queen Consort as they arrived for a ceremony at Micklegate Bar in York
Patrick Thelwell is arrested after throwing eggs at King Charles. {Photograph}: Jacob King/PA

Hill has saved tabs on different individuals who have been arrested after protesting towards the monarchy. He tells me a couple of 16-year-old given a dispersal discover for holding an indication saying “Abolish the monarchy” in Bolton an hour earlier than the king visited. The boy and his mates have been threatened with arrest in the event that they returned inside three hours. Hill additionally mentions Mariángela, the Mexican lady arrested in Edinburgh. “I’ve been in contact together with her. She received fairly a little bit of racist abuse about it.” After which there’s Patrick Thelwell in York, who threw the eggs at Charles. “I don’t have an enormous drawback with that, however I wouldn’t do it. I don’t suppose it’s completely non-violent. I additionally suppose it’s a waste of meals.” However they’ve been in contact and Hill hopes to attend Thelwell’s court docket case in a present of solidarity.

The protesters appear to have change into a close-knit household. Hill tells me he’ll go to London for the coronation, alongside the stress group Republic, and can hopefully meet up with a couple of fellow protesters.

Perhaps the solemn reverence after the demise of Queen Elizabeth II wasn’t stunning. She had served for a record-breaking 70 years and was globally admired, even by many republicans. The brand new king is a unique character. Whereas she was well-known for her discretion, he’s regarded by many as a meddler. Whereas her poker face remained intact all through her reign, it took him solely days to indicate his petulance in public, throwing two strops over pen-related incidents. There have additionally been questions on his judgment and integrity. 4 days after the queen’s demise, as much as 100 Palace employees got discover of redundancy throughout a thanksgiving service for her, and final November proof about cash-for-honours allegations involving one of many king’s charities was handed to the Crown Prosecution Service.

In an Ipsos ballot in 2016, simply earlier than the Queen’s ninetieth birthday, 76% of these surveyed favoured a monarchy, with solely 17% preferring a republic. Now, 58% need a monarchy, whereas 26% favor an elected head of state, in response to a YouGov ballot for Panorama of practically 4,600 adults, revealed earlier this week. Most revealingly, solely 32% of 18-24-year-olds polled need the monarchy to proceed.

Graham Smith, CEO of Republic, believes that is important. “The Queen is the monarchy for most individuals,” he mentioned earlier than her demise final yr. And now? “The establishment is in severe jeopardy. It’s been diminished to 2 {couples} – Charles and Camilla, and William and Kate – they usually’re not notably inspirational figures. As we see indifference to the monarchy develop, they received’t be able to show that round.” Smith thinks the generational hole may be defined by shifting cultural forces: “Identification politics, #MeToo, rising consciousness of empire and slavery – all that is pushing folks away.”

Patrick Thelwell and Symon Hill have deal in frequent. Each are tutorial, captivated with queer politics and have been arrested for protesting towards Charles. However whereas Hill is an understated pacifist, Thelwell believes in cracking a couple of eggs to make a republican omelette. On 9 November, he threw not less than 5 on the king. One whistled previous his arm, however that was the closest they received. His heckles, together with “The king is a paedophile” (he says now he was pondering of his friendship with Jimmy Savile) have been as outlandish as Hill’s had been sober.

Thelwell was arrested, pulled to the ground and brought to the police station the place he signed his custody file “Fuck the king”. After we converse quickly after, Thelwell, who’s learning for a grasp’s in worldwide relations, thinks he could also be charged with treason and jailed. Does he wish to be charged? “Aha! That’s query. Type of. Effectively, I’ve received some alternative phrases for my court docket look, that’s for certain.” Similar to? “I received’t be apologising, particularly if I get discovered responsible. I’ll be saying I don’t recognise the legitimacy of this court docket or this nation, and I’ll most likely name for a revolution, simply to spice issues up a bit, as a result of that’s what we want.”

What type of revolution? “I’d like folks to withdraw their consent to be ruled by the British nation state as a result of it’s complicit in warfare crimes and crimes towards humanity. It must be dissolved and its belongings redistributed as reparations for local weather change to the worldwide south. As an alternative we’d create a federated direct democracy of native folks’s assemblies and finally a world democracy the place we’re residents of Earth.” Blimey, I say, that’s formidable. He giggles. “Effectively, yeah! Have you ever seen the issues we’re going through? Considering, ‘Ooh, if we might simply get Labour into energy, every thing can be positive.’ Like, no! Keir Starmer’s planning on preserving all of the protest legal guidelines which have come into place.”

Cross Boy George with Rick from The Younger Ones and you could get one thing approaching Thelwell. He sees himself as “a cosmocrat, a democratic federalist. The politicial thinker I most draw on is Murray Bookchin. He was a Marxist, then an anarchist, then he thought, ‘Neither of those are sufficient, we have to create a unique state, primarily based on native self-governance.’” Has wherever on this planet achieved this? “Sure, Rojava in northern Syria. Abdullah Öcalan, the Kurdish resistance chief, constructed on Bookchin’s work and moved in the direction of making a stateless direct democracy. About three million folks dwell beneath it and also you’ve received an enormous community of various tribes and cities and villages.” Within the Observer, Kenan Malik praised Rojava as a courageous experiment in democracy and equality, saying it could be a “tragedy” if it have been crushed by President Assad.

When Thelwell, 23, is just not learning or plotting the revolution, he works as an ecological gardener. He makes it clear he’s no protest virgin. “It wasn’t my first rodeo,” he says of the egg-throwing incident. In 2020, he was considered one of 26 Extinction Rise up activists who blockaded two British printing crops, disrupting the distribution of newspapers together with the Murdoch-owned Solar and Instances. Thelwell glued himself to the roof of a van and was convicted of obstructing the freeway and aggravated trespass. He was additionally, like Hill, arrested on the arms honest in London, although his protest was extra bodily. “I jumped a fence and climbed on an Apache helicopter. I sat on the rotors and drummed on it for 2 hours.” He pauses, then provides proudly: “I’ve no sense of rhythm.” He wasn’t charged on that event.

Patrick Thelwell, a student at York University who in November 2022 threw eggs at King Charles and the Queen Consort whilst they were visiting York in North Yorkshire.
‘We want a revolution’: pupil Patrick Thelwell, whose egg-throwing resulted in a cost of threatening behaviour. {Photograph}: Richard Saker/The Guardian

“There’s nothing that compares to taking an motion,” he says. It offers him a buzz? “It’s not a buzz, it’s being aligned with the form of world we wish to create. You are feeling you’re doing one thing inherently proper, that transcends your ego. Individuals say it’s narcissistic, however it’s not about you, it’s about your message.”

None of Thelwell’s direct actions met with the vitriol that egging the king did. He thought he was going to be lynched by the gang: “They misplaced their minds. They have been saying issues like, ‘Kill him, kick him to demise.’” Since then, he says, he’s obtained demise threats. “Individuals have tried to get into my lodging block. I’ve had emails saying, ‘We’re outdoors, we’re going to place your head on a spike.’ It’s not secure for me to stroll round York on my own.” He reads out an Instagram publish: “What a prick you’re. Embarrassing. When you’re not cautious you’ll get your head taken off, you little muppet.” Beheading is a typical theme within the trolling and although others have handled him as a hero, it’s been a difficult time for Thelwell, who has ADHD and suffers with nervousness. “I really feel fairly ungrounded. There was my life pre-egg and now it’s post-egg. I have to concentrate on a little bit of self-care.”

In early December, Thelwell was charged with threatening behaviour. As a part of his bail situations, he was banned from carrying eggs. What does he suppose will occur in court docket? “I feel I’m going to jail, partly due to what I’ll say in court docket. I’m going to say, ‘Fuck the king, this court docket is an illegitimate authority.’”

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 will make the arrest of protesters at subsequent week’s coronation simpler and extra doubtless. The cease and search powers of police have been prolonged to permit officers to focus on folks and automobiles if they think they is perhaps carrying something that may very well be utilized in protests. The house secretary now has the ability to ban marches and demonstrations they consider is perhaps “critically disruptive”, together with being too noisy. However the controversial policing of monarchy-related protests is nothing new.

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In 1952, 26-year-old Anthony George was fined 20 shillings for insulting behaviour after failing to observe the two minutes’ silence at King George VI’s funeral because he objected to its commercialism. PC Eric Rolfe told Guildhall magistrates court that George had made “unnecessary noise with his feet”. Half a century later, during the Golden Jubilee, 23 activists staging a protest in Tower Hill with the banner “Execute the Queen” were arrested. They later received £80,000 in damages from police in an out-of-court settlement. In 2011, protesters dressed as zombies were arrested during the wedding of Prince William and Kate. Police justified the arrest as pre-emptive, with the European court of human rights ruling eight years later that there had been no breach of the protesters’ right to liberty.

I meet barrister Paul Powlesland at Garden Court Chambers in mid-November, a couple of months after he was threatened with arrest for holding up a blank piece of paper in Parliament Square. Powlesland had read about the arrest of protesters exercising their rights to freedom of speech and was dismayed at the one-note coverage of the queen’s death. “It felt over the top and mawkish. I don’t want to say it was akin to North Korea, but it did not feel like a free, vibrant democracy in terms of different opinions being expressed. When I heard about the arrests, I thought, this is outrageous.”

Powlesland had never given the royals much thought, but he’d given plenty to freedom of speech: “The protest was initially more about that.” Protesting with a blank piece of paper was purely practical. “I couldn’t get arrested because I had a case next day. Holding up a ‘Not my king’ sign is not unlawful, but they can still arrest you and I didn’t want to let my client down.”

Powlesland, 36, wears a brightly coloured jacket over his smart suit, has a ponytail and speaks with a plummy accent he says is misleading. He grew up in Addlestone, Surrey, to working-class parents (his father worked as a window fitter for 45 years) but “Addlestone gave me an accent that makes everyone assume I’m a public schoolboy.” Only two people in his school year went to university, and he got into Cambridge.

What politicised him? He looks embarrassed. “I don’t know if I want this confession in the Guardian. I started out as Tory.” There’s more. “I voted Ukip in 2004 because I was a massive Eurosceptic.” Is he still? “No. I try not to think about Brexit. I voted remain in the end.”

Powlesland lives on a boat in east London and is an activist around protecting rivers. He has six children through sperm donation, none of whom he has met. Like Hill and Thelwell, he is not a stranger to direct action. During the 2012 Olympics, he was involved in a bike ride protest. The police ruled the cyclists couldn’t ride north of the Thames; Powlesland did, was charged and convicted, and then given a conditional discharge.

The other incident involving police was terrifying, he says. “I got arrested three years ago in a dawn raid involving 10 officers smashing my door down. I was asleep, they handcuffed me, searched my entire boat and took me to the police station. It was like being kidnapped by a criminal gang.” Powlesland was accused of rioting at the London Stock Exchange. The only evidence was footage of a masked, hooded rioter wearing leggings, which Powlesland was known to wear at demonstrations. He soon proved he was in chambers at the time: “I gave them a dossier of evidence, but they still couldn’t say, ‘We’re sorry, we got it wrong.’”

Barrister Paul Powlesland, who was threatened with arrest for holding up a blank piece of paper
‘Even monarchists were outraged’: barrister Paul Powlesland, threatened with arrest for holding up a blank piece of paper. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

On 12 September, Charles addressed parliament as king for the first time. The Metropolitan police called in reinforcements in case of protests. Powlesland, who works nearby, walked from Parliament Square to Downing Street and back with his blank piece of paper. “Then a guy from Norfolk police came up and spoke to me, and that was the video that went viral.” Powlesland recorded the encounter on his phone. “He asked for my details, I asked why and he said, ‘I want to check you’re OK on the Police National Computer.’ I said, ‘I’ve not done anything wrong, so I’m not giving you them.’ I wanted to test it without getting arrested. So I asked, ‘If I wrote “Not my king” on the paper, would I get arrested?’ and he said, ‘Probably, because it would be a breach of the Public Order Act; it would be offensive.’” Was he right? Powlesland laughs. “No! Just having something someone else finds offensive is not a criminal offence because then pretty much anything could be.”

The video has been watched by more than 1.5 million people and the protest was widely reported. That night the Met’s deputy assistant commissioner, Stuart Cundy, issued a statement verging on the apologetic: “We’re aware of a video online showing an officer speaking with a member of the public outside the Palace of Westminster earlier today. The public absolutely have a right to protest and we have been making this clear to all officers.”

Was Powlesland surprised his protest received so much publicity?“Yes, and that even monarchists were outraged. There was definitely a sense of the police pushing back on alternative forms of expression and by doing something so ridiculous, it forced them to admit they were wrong and freedom of speech is allowed.”

The next day Powlesland returned to Parliament Square with friends. “We had different things written on pieces of A3: ‘Not my king’, ‘Down with the monarchy’.” The police walked past. No arrests were made.

Friday 14 April. It’s early morning and a queue has formed outside York magistrates court – a mix of journalists and Thelwell’s supporters carrying placards featuring eggs and saying “Did you vote for him?” and “Justice for Patrick, justice for all”. Thelwell wears a large hooped earring containing an image of the Earth; an Earth symbol is tattooed on his right hand and “Love” on his left. He is skinny and tiny, even in the platform heels he says he wore on the day to see Charles through the crowd. He is cheeky, likable and nervous.

Thelwell, who has chosen to defend himself, admits to low-level violence in throwing the eggs. He tells senior district judge Paul Goldspring: “If that amounts to unlawful violence, then the violence carried out by the British state is at such a severe level, I can’t be held accountable for my crime while the crimes of the state go unpunished.” The violence was lawful, he says, and he acted out of necessity because government policy in relation to the health service, asylum seekers, the arms trade and the climate is killing countless people. As promised, he tells the court he does not recognise its legitimacy because the prosecutors work for the crown. It’s a bravura performance – by turns ingenious, comic, ridiculous and noble. At one point Goldspring tells him: “We don’t need grandstanding. We’re not in a theatre.”

But the judge is kindly and gentle. He acknowledges Thelwell’s ADHD and that he is strapped for cash, and tells him early on he will not go to prison: “Do you want to say anything about that? Or are you are just relieved?”

“Yes,” Thelwell says with a nervous laugh.

The judge asks him why he had stopped his studies. “Because I thought I was going to prison,” he says.

“What is the chance of you finding a job in six weeks?” the judge asks.

“Do you need any gardening doing?” Thelwell says.

“Surprisingly not,” the judge replies.

Thelwell is found guilty of threatening behaviour. The judge says it is an “unprovoked, targeted and pre-planned use of violence against what was, after all, a 74-year-old man”, yet he sounds as if he’d like to give Thelwell a hug and tell him not to throw away his life. He is given a 12-month community order with 100 hours of unpaid work and ordered to pay costs of £600 and a £114 surcharge at a rate of £5 a week.

He doesn’t get to say “Fuck the king” in court, but he does say pretty much everything else he had planned. He remains polite and thanks the judge for his leniency, before emerging from court triumphant but a little chastened.

When we speak a couple of days later, I tell him I left court thinking it was a victory for humanity – everyone came off well. “I thought so, too,” he says. Was he surprised he was allowed to read out his statement in court? “One hundred per cent. I got lucky with the judge.”

With the coronation imminent the Met are preparing for what is expected to be one of the biggest operations in their history. This month, secretary of state for culture, media and sport Lucy Frazer told the Sun it would be “extremely disappointing” if activists targeted the event. Meanwhile, Hill, Powlesland and Thelwell hope to be there, exercising their democratic right to free speech. “I’ll be protesting,” Hill says. “I want to speak out against being told to submit to somebody because of an accident of birth. It is really important we’re not intimidated into not speaking out.”

Republic’s Smith is looking forward to the big day. Will there be much protest? “We’re bringing 1,000-plus people to Trafalgar Square. We’re not planning anything illegal, and it’s only going to be disruptive in terms of noise and a sea of placards. When Charles comes past, we expect chants of ‘Not my king’ and booing. We’re going to make sure we can’t be missed or edited out.”

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