Six members of Dumfries & Galloway SPSC Branch went to "Sainsbury's Superstore" at Newton Stewart to join in the UK effort to pressurise Sainsbury's UK management to follow the Coop and stop trading with companies involved in Israel's illegal settlements in the West Bank. We built on the precedent established at Kelso "Sainsbury's Superstore" in February, when the firmness shown there by four SPSC campaigners established for all other determined campaigners that freedom of political free speech operates, or can be made to operate, on the car parks of large supermarkets. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
The six of us were committed to asserting our rights to political free speech and discussing with other customers Sainsbury's violations of its ethical trading claims and its profiteering from trade with illegal Israeli settlements.
Two of us explained to the Store Manager what we were going to do, and he told us he had had notification from the company and would report the matter higher up for clarification. Nothing happened – six of us leafleted at the entrance to the "Sainsbury's Superstore" and got a great response from customers. We got 80 postcards signed from 12noon to 2.00pm with no complaints or difficulty from management.
SPSC members from the Dumfries & Galloway will be going back there first Saturday of each month. And we'll be dry whatever the weather, standing under the protective canopy at the entrance. Or we'll be arranging to test in court any future departure locally from the Kelso precedent.
(Report from Kelso)
Police called to Kelso Sainsbury's, 26 Feb. 2014 to SPSC Borders & Berwick Branch leafleting for boycott
The Branch had already campaigned outside the store on one day of each of the previous three months. On the first occasion, following our leafleting of about 200 car windscreens in the store car park, a very angry manageress asked us to refrain from such specific activity. At the point of asking, she and a female assistant, had gathered-up every leaflet and adamantly refused to return them. She stated, in my presence and that of Phil (another volunteer) that there had been complaints from customers, and that whereas she couldn't stop us from talking to Sainsbury's customers she was asking us to desist from putting leaflets on car windscreens.
On our second visit to the store, the same manageress instructed us to move further out from the store entrance points, on the grounds she claimed, that we were obstructing emergency exits – which very clearly we weren't.
On our third visit, whilst I and a fellow volunteer were operating on the right-hand door, the manageress rushed up to us and a fit-of-temper exclaimed; "I want you off my car park". One of us immediately responded (in line with our pre-arrival decision), with; "We're not leaving". She then proceeded to threaten us with calling the police. Our nominated spokeperson said; "Go ahead", and off she went into the shop. We carried-on, as usual, for about another forty minutes to our agreed deadline. No police arrived and we drove off.
26th Feb 2014
Four of us turn-up at Sainsbury's together at 2pm. We split into two pairs, each covering an entrance. We stand about twelve feet outside the doors, allowing ample space for customers to engage with us or walk past. 'Would you like a leaflet about how Sainsbury's sources some of its goods from illegally occupied territories?"
After about fifteen minutes an under-manager in uniform comes out to talk to us. As he engages with Carol, a new volunteer, I and another member joined the conversation. This manager is calm and polite. He asks us to leave – at one point suggesting we might like to move to the outside road (beyond the car park boundary). We decline. We make various attempts to engage with him on the reason for our presence. At first he resists, then listens.
He then returns, however, to his original 'script' and states that he has no choice but to involve the police if we don't comply with his request. He offers us five minutes to discuss our response, but we tell him our decision is already made – which is to carry-on as we were. I press him to say if the decision to involve the police is his own, from higher-up within the unit, or from higher-up beyond. 'From higher-up', but as he's on the move back in to call the police, he doesn't define what that means.
We return to our activity and a bout ten minutes later, a police car comes into the car park. Three officers emerge, two male and one female engaged in some hilarious laughter. They approach in and we engage in an exchange of jovial banter – with such comments on our behalf as; 'There can't be much crime going-on in Kelso today given the big turnout'. The officer-in-charge takes time to read our leaflet, we explain our activity is UK-wide, and why.
The officer-in-charge talks on his radio at one point, then excuses himself to go into the store to talk with the person who rang them. Emerging after only a few minutes, declares for our benefit: 'You're not causing an obstruction. You're not hassling people. You're giving leaflets to those who want to receive them. Your leaflets are not offensive or threatening. You're behaving peacefully. You're not breaking any law'. He finished by saying; 'I don't know what we're doing here' (meaning, pretty-much; 'It was totally inappropriate to ring us').
Our four-strong contingent questioned the officers about their opinions as to our rights in such a set of circumstances – especially with regard to the car park and store being "private property".
The officer-in-charge was clear that;
[A] Regardless of the ownership status of the ground surrounding the store, this is a public access area and anyone engaged in lawful activity (such as ourselves) could not be moved off it, either by the police or anyone else. 'Does that mean that if Sainsbury's has its own security, it cannot move us off either?' The same officer replied, equally adamantly, that they could NOT move us. Nobody could'.
[B] The officer-in-charge stated, with regard to handing-out leaflets, that "This is a right of free speech, protected under the law".
The police officers departed as happy as when they arrived, and the four of us completed our period of duty 'till 4pm, unobstructed.
(4 members of SPSC Berwick & Borders Branch)