Tuesday morning, 15 July 2008, Brent NUT and ATL Secretary Hank Roberts entered Willesden County Court with his wife, Jean, and other supporters. Brent Council representatives were there too. And if the usher got his way I would not have been. Nor would the other four journalists that decided to cover the story.
In fact he took great offence at our presence, first refusing to let me enter, not until he cleared it with the judge, anyway. On his return the court usher exclaimed: “In all my 25 years I’ve never seen a journalist in here”.
“Well, there’s always a first time,” I replied.
“You better make that two,” said a voice behind me.
“I guess I count as three,” said another.
The usher looked confused and gave up, as not one but three journalists entered his precious courtroom. Then within five minutes another two from the North West London newspaper were greeted with his annoyance.
Roberts tried to highlight the issue to the judge, but the old boy looked bored in his wig and asked Roberts if he was a “politician”. The judge stated firmly on several occasions that the High Court hearing on whether Brent Council’s planning application for the Ark Wembley Academy was illegal was a completely separate issue. He stated: “A 1000 flowers bloom in the Spring, tra-lar. But it has nothing to do with the case.”
But even the judge grew interested in the case as Roberts explained it was linked, because if the privatisation of UK education, and specifically the Wembley Academy, did not go ahead the Tent City Occupation would not be happening.
The Judge, at first, brushed off the idea Academy schools were profiting from education, but even the members of the public and several journalists interjected to add not only was it education for profit but the UK taxpayer would be paying for it. The judge then leaned back in his chair and seemed to scowl at the council officials. But he had a job to do, and the book said this was “neither here nor there”.
The Brent Council representatives, who sat giggling through most the courtroom drama, tried to hit Roberts as hard as they could, an attempt to destroy him financially, but even the judge frowned when he read the costs Roberts would be paying.
He cut the costs to £3,750 but approved the ban on Roberts – not to enter the site again for the next two years unless he had prior permission from Brent Council.
This was going to be hard to adhere to, as Roberts often accompanied his school children to football matches on the sports ground. He would also need access to the site when the school “officially” opened, in September 2008, to meet with teachers on union business, if Ark Schools would be employing unionised teachers.
This argument also failed as the judge proclaimed, much to the amusement of the audience: “Well, there isn’t a school there at the moment.”
Indeed. And there would not be a school there for another two years.
Roberts left the court defiant, saying he would ignore the injunction and the ban: “The fight for state education is as important as the fight for women’s suffrage in my view… all the other people before us who sacrificed so much and have often been to prison for fighting for what’s right.
“If that needs to be done I am happy to do it. And I hope ultimately others will do it as well, because that’s the only way we save and ultimately improve our state education.”
Save Our Schools 22-minute film available on Reel News issue 13
Stop them Privatising Our Schools available on Reel News issue 12
Wembley Occupation available on Reel News issue 10
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