Mall protester's damage act misfires

Protester Benjamin Easton has been banned from Manners Mall.

The self-styled "political busker", was seen taking a sledgehammer to the road in Victoria St at the end of Manners Mall yesterday. He was arrested by police, some in riot gear.

The 50-year-old has previously publicly claimed to be voluntarily on a benefit and that he "sacrificed" a career to take up public causes. He has campaigned against the reintroduction of buses into Manners Mall since it was first proposed in 2008.

This morning he appeared in Wellington District Court before Judge Anthony Walsh, who bailed him till Friday, when Easton intends to challenge a bail condition that he not go to Manners Mall.

Easton had said the mall was where he worked.

He faces charges of disorderly behaviour, intentional damage and possession of an offensive weapon. He has not pleaded.

Yesterday Easton brought central Wellington to a standstill. He talked through a loudhailer as he poured blue paint along Victoria St and later laid into the bitumen with a sledgehammer, stalling cars and buses.

As Wellington City Council infrastructure performance manager Jon Visser tried to wrest the sledgehammer away, Easton responded: "It's not your right . . . I'm going to show you the damage you're doing to the public's roads."

Hundreds of people gathered to watch, some cheering Easton on, and others telling him to "Get a life".

Several carloads of police arrived about 15 minutes after the commotion began, and ordered Easton to drop his sledgehammer.

Easton refused to do so, insisting police read a copy of section 330 of the Resource Management Act, which Easton had invoked as legal protection for his action.

He eventually dropped the sledgehammer when a policewoman armed with a Taser ordered him to. Police with riot gear then tackled him to the ground, to cheers from the watching crowd.

Traffic was diverted at the intersection of Victoria and Manners streets for a short time, while police questioned by-standers.

Council spokesman Richard MacLean said traffic was snarled up for about half an hour.

"A lot of motorists weren't prepared to drive past a person swinging a sledgehammer."

The damage caused was not significant. "It didn't exactly wreck our infrastructure."

There was a mixed reaction to Easton's actions from the crowd. Sky Lim said Easton had his sympathies and he was simply trying to get attention for the cause. "He's been working so hard for us."

But Hugo Dewar said the protester had lost his support as a result.

"The sledgehammer is a foolish way of going about [getting attention]. He's just destroyed public property, it just seems like a stupid way to get attention for the cause."

The Dominion Post