Over the last couple of days the strangest thought has plagued me. Two simple ugly words have kept emerging, only for me to lock them out and ridicule them as bizarre. Simon’s dead. Just to write it down feels like treachery. Part of me looks forward to seeing him, to sharing a drink and dispelling this nonsense. He’d say something wry, and witty and that would be that. He was good like that. Was. Sometimes the shittiest word to ever have to use about a friend.
As part of a (temporary, and self-imposed) exile from all politics, I didn’t know his health had deteriorated so much. We weren’t the kind of friends who lived out of each other’s pockets. There are many who were closer to him than me and I wish them all my love. But for almost 15 years he was always there. At crap protests and good ones, festivals and parties, we’d find each other and we’d usually end up drinking together. We shared a love of getting proper twatted and so we did that a lot.
The London anarchist movement would have looked very different without Simon Chapman. From the Movement Against The Monarchy to the Wombles, to May Day, several squatted social centres and finally Class War, Simon was an active presence both on the streets and behind the scenes. Countless flyers were produced by him over the years. He helped organise dozens of gigs, parties, campaigns and demonstrations and I was lucky enough to work with him on several of them. Up until very recently he was still updating the Class War website.
It was the streets where his heart lay though and he was no passive peaceful protester. He got nicked all the time when he was younger. He fucking hated capitalism, was never afraid to get his hands dirty and despised the police. And he had good reason.
In 2003 Simon was arrested during a vicious police tear gas attack at a particularly fruity anti-capitalist protest in Thessaloniki, Greece. It was claimed he was carrying petrol bombs in his rucksack and he was held on remand with charges hanging over him that could have seen him spend the next 20 years in prison. Six other people were arrested and charged in similiar circumstances. All denied the allegations against them. Photographic evidence soon emerged that showed the rucksack the police claimed Simon was carrying was not the rucksack he was arrested with. It was a transparent fit up.
The treatment of those arrested was obscene. All were beaten savagely following their arrest. For the first few days of his incarceration Simon was left virtually blind after the police smashed his glasses. He couldn’t see a fucking thing without his glasses. Despite these abuses the UK’s Labour government did not lift a finger to help. Neither did any other state. So the prisoners took the only action left available to them and began a hunger strike.
A militant Europe-wide campaign fast emerged demanding that all seven prisoners be released. Greek embassies were picketed across the continent and in some cases attacked and occupied. In Barcelona the Metro system was shut down during an international day of action in solidarity with the prisoners. In the UK a relentless campaign targeted the Greek Embassy and Tourist Board. Parts of Athen’s University were repeatedly occupied, whilst fierce demonstrations throughout Greece resulted in more arrests.
In the end Simon didn’t eat for almost seven weeks. All the hunger-strikers were repeatedly hospitalised, such was the strain on their health. In the final days the prisoners stopped accepting fluids. By now the solidarity campaign was at fever pitch as the risk that someone might die grew ever closer. Mainstream media across Europe began to take an interest, lured by sensationalism and smelling blood. Faced with international embarrassment, and concerned about creating seven martyrs who would shine a light on the corrupt Greek police, all the prisoners were released on November 6th 2003 and the charges against them dropped. Simon came home.
Then, five years later, the bastards came for him again. After repeated appeals from the Greek state prosecutor the charges against four of the original seven were re-instated. In 2008 Simon was found guilty of a string of exotic sounding and terrifying charges including Distinguished Riot and the creation, possession and explosion of bombs. He was sentenced in his absence to eight and a half years in prison.
Under the threat of a European Police Warrant, which was likely to see him dragged from his home by our own filth and handed over to the Greek authorities, Simon was forced to return to Thessaloniki in 2010 to appeal the conviction. In the ensuing trial the police evidence was repeatedly demolished by the defence teams. The case ended in humiliation for the Prosecutor with all charges thrown out for all four defendants except for a hastily cobbled together guilty verdict of “minor defiance of authority”. This misdemeanor was enough to justify the time those accused had spent in prison, although the six month sentence was suspended and Simon once again returned home.
Simon was much, much more than just one of the Thessaloniki Seven. But I suspect none who knew him well would deny the shadow these events cast over his life, and the impact they had on his health. Of course our own state also put the boot in, subjecting him to years of benefit cuts, Atos assessments and at the mercy of London’s fucked private sector rental market.
Throughout all this Simon stayed strong, never stopping fighting, or laughing and never losing his faith that a better world would one day be possible. He was kind, and clever and both ruefully cynical and enthusiastically hopeful at the same time. He was also more than just an anarchist. As well as raising his fist, he also raised his daughter who he regularly spoke of with loving pride*. His loss will leave a big hole in many lives. The last thing he would want is tears, but he will get them.
For myself, if you find me hassling you to come and find an off-licence with me at some boring, stale protest then sorry, but it’s because Simon isn’t there anymore. And those are hard words to write, to accept as real. I will fucking miss you mate. I’m sorry I didn’t see you whilst you were so sick but glad my last memories of you are happy ones. At least the bastards will never take you alive again. Rest well Simon, you deserve it. Love and rage.
Johnny Void x
*If you’d like to contribute to a fund for Simon’s daughter please contact Freedom Bookshop.
The above pic was sent to me by someone, I hope whoever took it doesn’t mind me using it.