Ruth Hydon, 44, a regional officer for Unite the Union, was at a refuse workers’ strike outside Serco premises in London last summer when her attempt to speak with one of the firm’s managers led to her being charged by police.
They claimed her efforts to request a meeting with the manager, as he arrived on site, were contrary to Section 241 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act, citing a ‘use of violence or intimidation to compel activity or abstention from lawful activity’.
“On the second morning of the protest, myself and the other Unite officer present decided we would try to speak to the manager to set up a meeting about the workers’ dispute as he came into work,” said Ms Hydon.
“When he drove in, we tried to flag down his car, but he drove at speed around us. We then went to meet him at the doorway of the building, but he marched towards me, clearly not going to stop. I blew a vuvuzela horn in his direction and raised my hands in defence as he pushed past me and went inside. This was the incident I was later charged for.”
Ms Hydon’s union colleague reported the man’s driving to police. When they arrived on site they spoke to them before going inside to check CCTV and speak with the manager.
“I’d hoped the police would calm the situation, but when they came out of the meeting with management, the police mentioned a charge against me,” Ms Hydon said. “It was difficult to understand what the police officer was saying through his mask. He didn’t interview or arrest me, so I thought maybe they were trying to frighten us, but around two weeks later I got a letter saying I was being charged with intimidation on a picket line.”
Ms Hydon, who has worked at Unite for four years, called the union’s legal hotline for advice before speaking with a professional misconduct and criminal law expert at Thompsons Solicitors, Craig Hunn. Craig talked her through the process and went with her to court for the first hearing, where on his advice she pleaded not guilty.
The charges were dismissed by a District Judge at Bromley Magistrates Court on 1 November 2021.They determined that Ms Hydon had no case to answer and she was awarded her legal costs.
“The wait to stand trial for a crime I hadn’t committed was daunting and stressful,” she said. “Knowing Thompsons and the union supported me gave me confidence, but I had to take time off work. I also have young children and the stress of the case made home life difficult. As a law-abiding citizen and a trade unionist, it was a worrying time.”
Craig Hunn, for Thompsons Solicitors, added: “As the government continues to push its Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill through Parliament, this case is a timely reminder of the rights that trade union members currently have to lawfully protest, that are under threat in the near future.