Samantha Lindo shares her experience of court, pleading guilty and speaking the truth.
The coach was booked for 4.15am from Bristol. We were legally required to be at City of London Magistrates Court by 9.30am. But having packed my bag, made my lunch, and (apparently) set my alarm for an early start, I opened my eyes to sunlight.
“It’s five to seven!” I gasped, almost pushing my husband out of bed.
Five minutes later we were pulling onto the motorway; me still in my nighty, clutching my toothbrush and belongings.
I was settled in my head that I would plead guilty. I had discussed my options at great length with my lawyer from Hodge Jones Allen, a firm specialising in representing activists. If I pleaded guilty but went into the court unrepresented, I would have the chance to read a statement and have my voice heard without having to go forward with a trial at this time; it felt like the right thing for me to do.
I arrived just in time to a foreboding building which I was thankfully distracted from by the welcoming sight of people waiting in support, smiling, greeting me, laden with XR badges.
It was busy. Everyone seemed to be in the same boat, nervously chatting and sharing stories. People were handing out fruit and chocolate and someone went out for coffees – and then suddenly I was called –
“Samantha Lindo, guilty plea, unrepresented”.
The next thing I knew I was sitting on the back row of three tables in front of the judge. A whole row of people behind me – legal advisers, other defendants and media volunteers. A lady was just finishing off her not-guilty plea, discussing the details of the court date with the judge.
I sat with a dry mouth. Was this really happening? Not just the fact that I was there, but that the earth and us as humanity face this reality. I’d always known it, felt it, lamented it quietly, but this outward experience of the state of things sent a new wave of crushing disbelief and grief through my bones. Perhaps, like all paths in Jesus’ life were leading to the cross, all the paths in my life had been leading to this. The cost of telling the truth and acting accordingly. The judge invited me to take a seat at the defendant’s table.
I was asked my name, address, date of birth and plea. A man adjacent to me, who I soon realised was the prosecutor on behalf of the police, started to speak, recalling all the details of my arrest.
I had joined the protest straight from an Easter morning service at St John’s Waterloo. The female curate (who had been hosting activists in the crypt all week) had given a moving sermon in support of XR, celebrating the radical love of Mary Magdalene, the devoted woman who watched and waited with Jesus until the end, unafraid of facing the parts of reality that many would rather turn away from. We witnessed the baptism of a small, innocent child, a child that had no knowledge of the situation we face, yet who will reap the consequences of our choices now.
As we arrived onto the occupied bridge, an indigenous woman from Brazil, who held the crowd in the palm of her hand with her words and songs, told us how when they march to protect the last parts of the Amazon, their home and indeed, the very lungs of the earth, they are met not just with the police, but with the military. The privilege of our democracy and our right to protest safely shone in my mind and I felt compelled to use it.
At that point, an army of police officers descended with orders to move us to the legal protesting site at Marble Arch. At this point, I looked around to what seemed like a sea of women (men too, but for some reason around me, predominantly women). Later in the police van a female officer commented on this. I replied instinctively –
“Well, one hundred years ago, we would have been getting arrested for the vote.”
She agreed and nodded. Myself, the officer and the two other ladies who I’d been arrested with shared a smile and a quiet moment of solidarity.
In the court room the prosecutor read the words of my arresting officer which described in detail how he had previously warned a group of women, sitting in the road, singing, of the section 14 imposed on the protest. On returning to them, he continued, they “continued singing and started applying lipstick”.
The courtroom erupted with giggles and I tried my best to conceal my smile from the judge. But then the mood changed. He looked at me.
“Ms Lindo, do you have anything to say at this point?
I stood, my legs shaking.
“Yes, your honour”. I started to speak.
“I have pleaded guilty today because I did understand the section 14 imposed on the protest on Waterloo Bridge on Easter Sunday and I chose to remain present.”
“The officers present were clear, kind and professional in communicating this to me, as they were all the way through my detention, something I appreciated through what was the somewhat daunting experience of my first arrest.”
The judge nodded.
“As a teacher of young people suffering with their mental health, working in the public sector, I understand first-hand the stretched resources that the police force are faced with and I am sorry my arrest took up some of these precious resources.”
This was well received, I noted.
“I am also sorry if any of those resources were diverted from supporting young people, something that was constantly on my mind throughout my night in the cell.”
“But, more than anything…”
I took a deep breath.
“I am sorry that it has come to this. That I feel I have to get myself arrested in order to get my voice heard.”
The words spilled out of me now, no looking at the page.
“I have campaigned, marched and legally protested for the whole of my adult life.”
“We have been ignored.”
“This is an emergency.”
My voice broke now and you could feel the weight of the room.
“It has got to the point where I can no longer look the young people I work with in the eye and tell them I believe there is hope for their future. Or, as a recently married woman in her 30s, when everyone is expecting me to have a child, to even consider this a reasonable or indeed moral thing to do, or retain any sense of emotional and psychological congruence within myself without acting in accordance with this emergency.”
I took a breath.
“Nor, as someone with a Christian faith, who are called to stand up for the vulnerable and tell the truth.”
My eyes met the judge’s as I drew my thoughts into a close.
“So, Your Honour, if I am guilty of acting in accordance to this emergency – to protect myself, my future child and indeed all of us… then so be it.”
“But, if I am guilty, I would like to ask you and all here present, how much more guilty is the government, that holds power in this country, for not acting, not telling the truth and not doing it’s ultimate job of protecting our lives, the lives of our children and indeed all life on this planet?”
There was a pause. The judge, broke the silence.
“Well, Ms Lindo” tripping over his words slightly.
“I have to say, you have expressed yourself… most eloquently.”
He looked moved. And possibly in agreement.
“I am giving you a six month conditional discharge and a fixed penalty of £85 plus victim charge of £20 totalling £105”.
We discussed how I would pay this, all the while standing, my legs feeling like jelly.
As I turned to leave the room, the court erupted with a huge round of applause. I hadn’t expected that. Everyone who was at the back stood, it was wonderful to walk past the emotional, smiling faces of those who had been there with me to share this moment.
I floated out into the waiting room to be congratulated and thanked by an array of people, and to my surprise, a lady from CCA was there as arrestee support collecting all my details, ready to give me a big hug.
I knew in that moment that this was one of the most meaningful moments of my life. I felt I was exactly where I was meant to be, doing what I was meant to be doing. Acting in non-violence. Demanding justice. Telling the truth.
It felt not only wonderful, it felt divine.