Jonnie Marbles sentence sends clear signal

Comedian Jonathan May-Bowles was yesterday sentenced to six weeks in jail for throwing a shaving-foam pie at Rupert Murdoch whilst the media tycoon was giving evidence at the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

Better known as “Jonnie Marbles”, May-Bowles was also ordered to pay £250 costs and a £15 victim fine after pleading guilty to one count of common assault and another count of causing harassment, alarm or distress under Section 5 of the Public Order Act. Of those six weeks, Jonnie will serve three. District Judge Daphne Wickham, handing down his sentence said Jonnie “attended those proceedings with only one intention, to disrupt them”. She had taken into account the “fear” Mr Murdoch must have felt when he did not know the contents of the pie and that the foam “made contact…its greater impact was stopped by the actions of others.”

So here’s the rub. For crimes of comedy, Jonnie Marbles is to spend three weeks in Wandsworth prison. His lawyer, Tim Greaves, called the sentence “excessive” and said they would launch an appeal but that nothing is likely to move on that until after Jonnie has served his time.

Jonnie’s sentence was handed down by the same judge who gave policeman Marcus Ballard 150 hours unpaid work for pushing a teenager through a shop window. She also gave James Allen QC a 12-month supervision for beating his wife over an uncooked dinner. She let off TSG Sergeant Delroy Smellie over hitting G20 protester Nicola Fisher across the face and whacking her in the legs with a baton.

As argued by Jonnie’s lawyer in court “slapstick and pie throwing is a recognised form of protest.” No injury was caused — nor was there any intent to cause it — and there was limited damage to the suit. Jonnie viewed the Select Committee proceedings as a “farce” and he “intended to express his feelings that…Murdoch should be held accountable” for allowing and engendering a culture where News of the World journalists hacking dead girls’ phones was considered acceptable practise.

It’s worth noting that Rupert Murdoch has not supported his prosecution but the Crown Prosecution Service decided to push on anyway. He was initially charged with Section 5 of the Public Order Act, a charge with a maximum penalty of £1000 commensurate with income. Jonnie’s not rich. Shortly before his first court appearance he was dished up the charge of common assault largely on the basis of a single witness statement made by Trinity Mirror journalist Rachael Bletchley. A statement that also noted that, when she noticed her husband was being pied, Wendi Deng knocked over a woman in a grey suit and launched a physical attack on Jonnie that left him with a cut to his nose.

Jonnie’s sentence joins a recent list of deterrent punishments handed down to protestors — mostly for violent disorder. But what seemed to annoy Justice Wickham the most was that Jonnie deigned disrupt the “dignity” of proceedings that were of “huge importance” and that he did so in the Palace of Westminster.
Oh. Like that time in 2004 when two Fathers 4 Justice protestors hit then-Prime Minister Tony Blair with condoms filled with purple powder thrown from the public gallery — in the middle of Prime Minister’s Questions. They were charged with disorderly behaviour. Or when Plane Stupid protester Leila Deen poured green custard over Lord Mandelson’s face over a proposed third runway at Heathrow. She was cautioned.

Whether you agree with Jonnie’s actions on 19 July or not, the message sent at Westminster Magistrates Court was clear. Don’t do it. If you want to exercise your right to protest and take your dissent beyond the tapping grumble of the internet, consider the consequences of your actions. Just like those who cut public services to boost the private sector and hack voicemails to sell newspapers.