It's good to have friends in high (and Highbury) places. Hurendra Bhatt, who has run a kiosk next to Highbury and Islington tube station in North London for 18 years (and who also has a shop nearby), is a regular correspondent and activist. He keeps the local council on its toes when it comes to planning permission inequalities and various obscure bylaws that conspire to make life difficult for the independent. So far, so good.
Then, late last year, a drunk came begging for money in the general area. Everyone refused him and the transport police threw him out of the station. He wound up on Hurendra's kiosk, spilling magazines all over the pavement and yanking the kiosk's frame out of shape. Hurendra gave him a couple of warnings and then pulled out his trusty baseball bat and thwacked him just below the shoulder.
Can you possibly guess what's coming? Hurendra got arrested and charged with common assault for having an offensive weapon.
"The law is very strange," he says. "You can only hit them if they hit you. I have served at least 2,000 customers a day for the past 18 years and this was the first time I have ever used a weapon. I normally just shout. I was at the police station for five hours and the drunk was back on the streets by lunchtime. Who are the police working for?"
Hurendra is not without influential friends. One local - Daily Mail political columnist Peter Oborne - has gone on record saying he will sign a petition in the retailer's favour. Hurendra's solicitor is liberal democrat councillor Greg Foxsmith. And, best of all, Tory MP Boris Johnson has gone public in his support. He wrote an entertaining, enraged and informed piece on 'Mr Baseball Bhatt' in the Daily Telegraph, deploring the daftness of the sorry affair. I only wish I had the space here to reproduce the whole article.
PS: On January 12, Hurendra rang to say that the police had dropped the charges!