A couple of Mondays ago, on a cold, colorless morning at 9am sharp, I found myself in the singular predicament of joining the back of a queue of around fifteen 9/11 “Truthers” in a dismal magistrates’ court in Horsham, a small English town about an hour from London. These Truthers were mostly male, middle aged, and—I’m sorry to say—a little stinky.
Their conversation sounded something like this:
“… you believe that you’ll believe anything…”
“… Osama Bin Laden, don’t make me laugh…”
And the delightful…
“… other than the lizard thing—which I personally don’t have any great problem with—everything else that man has said has been spot-on…”
What was I doing there, dog tired and trying not to breathe through my nose? I was a tourist, waiting to attend what promised to be the weirdest TV license prosecution in history.
Last year, documentary filmmaker Tony Rooke decided he’d had enough of the mainstream media’s repression of what he considered the irrefutable case for the existence of a 9/11 conspiracy, and in an ingenious illustration of the old adage about using an enemy’s own weight and strength against them, had refused to pay his TV license on the grandiose grounds of Article 3, Section 15 of the UK 2000 Terrorism Act, which states that it is an offence to provide funds if there is a reasonable cause to suspect that those funds may be used for the purposes of terrorism (the TV License is a compulsory fee for all UK TV owners and pays for the BBC).
“Mr Rooke’s claim is that the BBC has withheld scientific evidence that demonstrates that the official version of 9/11 is not possible,” explained a press release circulated by the AE911Truth UK Action Group, “and that the BBC has actively attempted to discredit those people attempting to bring this evidence to the public.” As part of his defense, it added, Rooke had secured three hours to present his case, and had assembled a “formidable team” of defense witnesses, including Professor Niels Harrit (Professor of Chemistry at the University of Copenhagen) and former intelligence analyst Tony Farrell. “Evidence such as this,” it concluded, “has rarely, if ever, been seen in any court of law…”
Yes, your correspondent was in Horsham not so much for a backdoor inquiry into the more controversial or contentious aspects of 9/11, as a cat-flap one. And he was very much looking forward to it!
While not exactly the toughest crowd through which to cut a dash, I am pleased to report that man-of-the-hour Tony Rooke did all the same. He was stood outside chain-smoking, with slightly floppy dark hair and a fleshy, dignified face that looked calm, thoughtful and somewhat oversensitive. As befits a defendant, he was dressed smartly, but had pulled this off rather well, something I feared would have been well beyond the reach of the other attendant Truthers, who were pointing him out to one another, murmuring in near awe that he looked “like a barrister.”
Arguably he was inspiring too much confidence. While it seemed pretty clear you would have to riffle through a fair few parallel universes before coming across a judge brazen or bananas enough to pitch the UK into an epistemological crisis over a TV license, some of the more optimistic Truthers were daring to dream, and by the time they opened the doors to Court 1 there were over a hundred cramming the narrow corridor.
This proved far too many for the tiny courtroom, which didn’t even seat thirty. Fortunately, I quickly found myself a cushy spot in the front row of folding orange leatherette chairs, but the vast majority of that large crowd was refused entry by a wiry usher with an ex-cop vibe—it was to be one in, one out at Loose Change Live.
The Truthers were in uproar: I was increasingly concerned about the possibility of the court being closed or cleared. Fortunately, the usher managed to eventually shut the door on them, and when Judge Stephen Nicholls entered those seated rose to their feet with something like reverence—due I supposed to the notion it was in this man’s power to turn the tide on their thus far rather one-sided battle with the Illuminati.
Nicholls was a man in his early-to-middle sixties, with glasses and bright white hair that had receded to a widow’s peak high on his brow. After scheduling later hearings for the day’s other defendants—a pair of understandably bewildered looking bruisers facing drink driving charges—Nicholls informed Rooke (who was representing himself), that although opening statements weren’t officially allowed, he would extend “a little leeway” in this instance
So, Rooke climbed into the witness box and launched into a decent speech. His tone was steady, reasonable, and wry as he addressed Nicholls. “I have incontrovertible—and I don’t use that word lightly—evidence against the BBC. The BBC had advance knowledge of twenty minutes of the events of 9/11 and did not do anything to clarify what the source of that information was. At the preliminary hearing I asked if you were aware of WTC7. You said you had ‘heard of it.’ Over ten years after 9/11 you should have more than heard of it. It’s the BBC’s job to inform the public—especially regarding miracles of science where the laws of physics become suspended. Instead, they have made documentaries making fools of and ridiculing those of us who believe in the laws of gravity.”
It crossed my mind that Judge Nicholls probably had since looked into WTC7 (a funny idea). Now, though, he interrupted (Rooke’s speech was getting increasingly polemical and wide-ranging). “This is not an inquiry into the events of 9/11,” Nicholls declared, collecting his No-Shit-Sherlock Award 2013 with the kind of silken irony you could only hope to spin from the soul of a judge. “This is an offence under Section 363 of the Communications Act.”
The prosecutor—a youngish guy called Garth Hanniford with a blandly handsome face and a horrible off-the-rack blue suit—was then invited to cross-examine the defendant. Good old Garth. He gave the impression of a man incapable of summoning much in the way of effort or enthusiasm for anything, and had been observing the extreme novelty of the day’s events—surely the most interesting afternoon of a working life spent prosecuting TV license avoidance?—with all the attentiveness of someone watching a friend play computer games.
He now stood up and launched into what one suspected was his habitual cross-examination.
“Do you possess a television Mr Rooke?”
“Yes I do.”
“And do you possess a television license?”
“No I do not.”
“And do you watch television?”
“So… you’re happy to make use of the service but not to pay for it?”
“Well, I’ll monitor it if I have to. Ignorance is no excuse in the eyes of the law. And it was only through watching the BBC that I could know that I would be committing a crime by paying for it.”
“No further questions,” mumbled Perry Mason, another day’s work already behind him.
On the wall behind the witness box, two decent sized television screens were on standby. There was something delectably Dadaist about the prospect that, any minute now, in a British court, we would presumably be watching the famous clip of the BBC newscaster informing viewers that the third building in the World Trade Center complex, WTC7, had just collapsed, while, in the background of the shot, it was still stood there—a stubborn facet of that surreal riddle (9/11) that had driven tens of thousands into the cold arms of paranoid schizophrenia. Now, as the witnesses for the defense filed in – the as-advertised all-star cast of maverick academics and former spooks—it was as if the national unconscious really was going to momentarily overwhelm the national superego.
Judge Nicholls, however, had other ideas. With an air of mild mischief, he started to tip his hand. As I understood it, his argument was that, even were he to sit through the show and at the end exclaim, “Jumping Jesus—9/11 was an inside job and the BBC are a pack of scoundrels!”—it would be beyond his jurisdiction to consequently exempt Mr Rooke from paying his license fee (let alone brand the Beeb “an organisation that supports terrorism,” or whatever). The day’s witnesses and exhibits, therefore, were superfluous.
In short, Loose Change Live was facing a major existential threat!
Judge and defendant went round in circles for a while…
“…I don’t want to incriminate myself by paying fees to an organisation complicit in terrorism. I will pay once the police establish that the BBC has nothing to do with terrorism…”
“… I do not believe that I have the power to rule under the Terrorism Act…”
“… I just want to present the evidence, that I am not allowed to do so leaves me slightly baffled…”
“…even if I accept the evidence, this court has no power to create a defense in the manner which you put forward…”
And so on. Meanwhile, the atmosphere was growing flat; the day building to a brutal anti-climax. Then, sensing the jig was up, Rooke suddenly lashed out.
“There is such a thing as morality, you know,” he declared (hell of a thing to chuck in the face of a judge). “You had me swear on a Bible, and now you’re asking me to commit a crime. If the BBC covers up a pedophile ring—keep paying. If they cover up 9/11—keep paying. Keep paying keep paying keep paying keep paying. When on earth does it stop? I’m sick of it.”
Judge Nicholls’ features darkened: there had been insolence (unanswerable insolence) in Rooke’s outburst, and the weight of the audience seemed suddenly and for the first time to press against him. He muttered he would retire to consider the evidence, stood up, and exited the court stage right with as near to a flounce as he had surely come in his entire career. Rooke had drawn a drop of blood!
When Nicholls returned to sentence him, the mood in the court received a further lift—he handed the defendant a conditional discharge of six months, ordering him to pay £200 legal fees, but not a fine, or even the outstanding license fee—it was a so-called “zero sentence.”
Rooke was passed a form to fill in.
“Can I just clarify,” he said, pausing with his pen in hand, “you’re ordering me to commit a crime?”
“I’ve given the judgement,” Nicholls responded, “I won’t be adding anything further to it now.” He raised his eyebrows. “Now do you want to fill in that form for me?”
Hearty thanks to David Kerekes