Evicted Arts Lodge tenant tells court: There were lots of lies about us by the city council

Alison Brett and Mark Lewis
Alison Brett and Mark Lewis

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THE man behind Portsmouth’s Arts Lodge has told a court ‘there were many lies’ by the city council’s leader Donna Jones leading up to him being evicted from the premises.

Mark Lewis, 49, is on trial accused of assaulting two police officers during an eviction at the lodge in Victoria Park on February 7.

He denies the charges against him, as does his partner Alison Brett, 52, who faces a single charge of assaulting a police officer.

Lewis told a judge today he had ducked under a police officer’s arm to get into the lodge’s courtyard to retrieve a memorial to his mother when the eviction took place but then tried to barricade himself in.

Giving evidence at Brighton Magistrates’ Court, Lewis said: ‘There were many lies by the council leader Donna Jones.’

He added: ‘Not only did she also say the police had found drugs in the place after they evicted us, on Facebook, which had been a total lie, she said they’d pay for storage and removal.

‘But now they’ve invoiced us £7,500.

‘We’re the ones at the emergency meeting... said we didn’t have to leave in February we’ll have a monthly rolling contract.’

The court heard the council wrote to Lewis in May 2016 giving notice to terminate the agreement between the council and the lodge. It has previously contested Lewis’ version of events.

Lewis, who said the lodge had raised £4.2m for the city partly through volunteering hours, said the council leader had ‘promised us a rolling contract from February’.

He said: ‘She mentioned we didn’t have to leave in February if we didn’t want to.

‘She mentioned we would be offered alternative premises and if we didn’t like any of them we could stay until we did.’

He also said the council removed them from a tender process to run the lodge.

The court was told he did not hand back the keys to the council so a locksmith was called in before 9am on February 7 to change all the locks.

Prosecutor Dominic Dudkowski told the court Lewis threw a table at PC Laurence McDevitt and thrusted a wet mop at PC Sinead Butler’s head - both actions Lewis denied while giving evidence.

Lewis said it was a ‘bad accident’ that another table had been hit into the officer by the one he had moved while making a ‘barricade’.

Asked why he had shouted ‘come on’ in the courtyard at the Arts Lodge, Lewis said he had been calling to supporters outside, not at the police.

Lewis said: ‘I was very upset, my whole life was disappearing.

‘You’ve got to make a reasonable conclusion whether I was provoked, whether on the day or through 10 years.’

He said it was ‘provocation to the extreme’ during the incident to have police and security there.

Today, giving evidence, Brett told how PC McDevitt ‘grabbed hold of (Lewis) and swung him into the tables’.

She added: ‘I was stood there watching and worried sick that he was going to do more damage to his elbow.’

Brett is accused of assaulting PC McDevitt by punching his back, the court heard.

Asked what she did by her lawyer Amy Oliver, Brett said: ‘He was well within my personal space he was a lot bigger than me.

‘I felt he was quite an aggressive person having watched him assault Mark.

‘It felt threatening.

‘I wanted everything to stop, basically, it was terrifying.’

‘I put my hand up.’

She said PC McDevitt had turned around and said ‘that’s assault’ after she put her hand on his back.

‘I said to him “if I have I didn’t mean to, and I’m very sorry”.’

Brett said she ‘felt threatened, bullied harassed,’ and ‘wanted the police to come’.

She added: ‘The crazy thing is that the police were there but they weren’t there to help.’

Ms Oliver asked: ‘At any stage did you hit or punch PC McDevitt?’

Brett, of Clarence Parade, Southsea, replied: ‘No.’

Lewis, also of Clarence Parade, Southsea, also denies a charge of using threatening, abusive, insulting words or behaviour with intent to cause fear of or provoke unlawful violence.