Thursday, May 19, 2016

Little Old Stories from the Old Bailey

The Anarchist 'Libel' Trial of 1912

May 1912 was a merry month for those who had it in for radicals in London. Not only did it bring a successful prosecution of prominent advocates of Votes for Women for conspiracy, but almost simultaneously one of the best-known anarchists, Errico Malatesta, was had up for libel, having published a "circular" denouncing a police spy in the movement...

From Black Flag, 2014/15, pp.32-34: review of The Method of Freedom,
An Errico Malatesta Reader
. (AK Press)
[some formatting added]

(Monday, May 20)


MALATESTA, Errico (59, publisher) , maliciously publishing a certain defamatory libel of and concerning Ennio Belili. Mr. Hinde prosecuted; Mr. G. St. John McDonald defended.

Full transcript, with page by page link to original as published:
Reference Number: t19120514-46; Offence: Breaking Peace > libel
Verdict: Guilty                   Punishment: Imprisonment

ENNIO BELILI (through an interpreter). I live at 70, Newport Dwellings, Soho, and am a bookseller. I am an Italian, and have been trading in England about 10 years. Have known prisoner about 30 years, and have seen him many times since I have been in England. About April 23 somebody handed me circular (produced) in Church Street, Soho, and I saw other people with copies in their hands. The same evening I received another copy by post.

Cross-examined. I am not a publisher. I was a personal friend of prisoner up to about six months ago, when the Italian-Turkish War started. I have sold a lot of books, some very ancient ones. I produce list of some of the firms in London from whom I bought books. I paid in cash, and all the receipts I have I produce. It is not true that the documents I have produced only show dealings amounting to £10 or £12 since I have been in England. I also bought books from firms in Italy and sold them here. I do not keep books of account as I pay in cash. I have no invoices or documents to show that I have sold any books, but I have sold many to various ladies and gentlemen. I make a profit of £250 to £300 a year. I have no banking account. I have no plate on my door showing I am a book-seller. I have two rooms and a kitchen at my flat, and live there with my wife and six children, and carry on my business from there. I sell my books outside. I keep all my books in my flat. I have at present 700 or 800 francs worth. I may not have a large number of books as perhaps only one is a very valuable book. I have had several very valuable books which I have sold, one I bought in Farringdon Street for a few shillings, and sold to Professor Pascal in Italy for 700 or 800 francs. That was about three years ago. I pay 9s. 6d. a week for my flat. Anita Pizza lives with us; she is a friend, not a servant. I did profess anarchy at one time, but after I saw that anarchist ideas were not fit for myself or others I gave up anarchy. That is a long time ago, more than eight years ago, and I very seldom went to any of their meetings. I did go to the International Anarchist Congress at Amsterdam in 1907 with prisoner's brother, who is not an Anarchist, but only as a matter of curiosity, not as a member. I paid my own expenses. I have never been an Italian police spy, and have never received any money from the Minister of the Interior in Italy. I never sent money to the Anarchist Congress, and have only bought their newspapers; 15s. or 20s. is all I have ever paid towards anarchism in my life. I am told defendant is an Anarchist, and he says he is. I do not know whether it is one of the tenets of anarchism that there should be no war between nations. I have never asserted that defendant had sold himself to the Turkish Government as a Turkish spy. I did not write an article in reply to the challenge of defendant, and never gave such a thing to anyone to print for me. I know nothing about a proof or proofs of document (produced) to me. It may be that defendant and I have fallen out in consequence of the war, but my wife broke the friendship off at the time of the Hounds-ditch affair [a.k.a. The Siege of Sidney Street] because the police were calling at my house asking me if I knew persons who participated in the murders. It may be that some of my friends in the Italian colony have broken their friendship with me or shunned me since this libel charging me with being an Italian police spy, but never before. I take defendant's circular to be an act of vengeance because I put him out of my house. I have never made the statement that he was a Turkish spy. I turned him out of my house six months ago because he said that whoever killed an Italian was his friend, and my wife would have given him some kicks if he had not gone. I did not know that the point was going to be raised that I was not a genuine bookseller. I was told two days ago to bring any receipts and vouchers, but I have not had time to look for all the papers.
Re-examined. I am agent for five or six foreign firms. I have always got an honest living by the sale of books.

ANITA PIZZA , 70, Newport Dwellings. I have seen the circular produced, and once showed it to defendant about a week before the police court proceedings. He told me that he had published it, and that he had also said it before 200 people.
Cross-examined. I take Signor Belili's children to and from school. I am not paid; I am just as a daughter in the family. Signor Belili does work as a bookseller. He has about 400 or 500 books now, I do not know how many he sells; it is not my business, but I should think 10 or 12 a month. He is also the representative of bookselling firms. Sometimes he makes as much as £1 a day, at other times less. We live very modestly. Before the war defendant used to visit Signor Belili. He also gave lessons in arithmetic to his daughter. I have never heard Signor Belili accuse defendant of being a Turkish spy, rather that he could not have acted as a spy, because his behaviour was not that of a spy. I have never heard of Signor Belili receiving a remittance from the Minister of the Interior of Italy. I do not know whether he has ever been an Anarchist.

ERRICO BAGAGA , translator of languages, 3, Carlisle Street, Soho. I made a correct translation of the circular complained of from Italian into English.
Cross-examined. I have known for years of Belili being an Italian spy, but I am not associated with such people. At the police court prisoner made a statement as to the circular by the advice of his solicitor.


ENRICO MALATESTA (prisoner, on oath). I am an electrical engineer, carrying on business as E. Malatesta and Co., 13, Windmill Street, Tottenham Court Road. I am an Italian subject. I have been in England for the last 12 years. I go up and down from Italy to England. I am not a professed Anarchist, but I believe in liberty and justice for everybody. It is 12 years ago since I came to settle in England. When I came to England the last time I had four years' deportation to the island where I was. The police have a right to deport. I was obliged for four years to live on one of those small islands in the Mediterranean. I escaped and went from Malta to England. I first met prosecutor in London 10 years ago. He was an Anarchist and went to Anarchist meetings. He was a frequent visitor to these meetings. One of its tenets is hatred of war between nations. Belili posed as a bookseller. I published this circular. As far as I know Belili is certainly not carrying on a legitimate business as a bookseller. I have said that I believed him to be a spy and he has said that I have sold myself to the police. Bellili has told me nothing. When he says he is not [i.e. does not claim to be] an Anarchist it is a lie. He did not turn me out of his house. His wife insulted me and I went out. He then tried to put himself on good terms with me, but I refused. Belili has never called me a Turkish spy, but has said so to other people. He has no business at all. He lives in three small rooms with his wife and six children. I have been there many times, because I used to give his children arithmetic lessons. One of the rooms is used as a kitchen. He has only a few books for private use. I have never seen a new book to be sold. Twelve years ago he used to sell some books. 1 purchased a few from him. I have ordered books from him, but could not get them. Ten years ago I saw him supply books; not the last five or six years. He has only private books in his house—some 100—what anybody would have. Bellili and I have had a controversy over the Turco-Italian war. He was a partisan of the war. It became a little violent, because he called himself an Anarchist, being in favour of the war. I was sure he was not an Anarchist. He never told me he was in the pay of Turkey. In my opinion this document has a very great interest in London for political refugees. Bellili attended a conference of Anarchists and posed as an Anarchist.

Cross-examined. When I published the circular I said that many people might think Bellili was an Italian police spy. When I say that he is not doing an honest trade as a bookseller I mean to imply that he is getting his money as an Italian police spy. When I say he is a liar, I mean it. When I said I could show how I get every 6d. of my income I meant I was getting my living honestly. I challenged Bellili to do the same. I have been sentenced in Italy, but always for political offences—never to 30 years' imprisonment or anything of the kind. I did not go to Bellili's house on purpose to say that I disagreed with the Italians over the war. I did not say I was against all the Italians—I am an Italian myself. Bellili said at the Italian Colony that I wished all the Italians would get killed—or something of the kind—to influence the Italian Colony; but he has failed. Mrs. Bellili told me that she had a brother, who was a lieutenant in the Italian Army. I used no violent language, but Bellili was not ashamed to put his wife in the question. I do not like to quarrel with ladies. I did not say that everybody who murdered an Italian was a friend of mine, or that they should be crucified. I was a frequent visitor at Bellili's house until his wife insulted me and then I went away. Afterwards I met Bellili at a shop kept by a friend of mine. I have seen Bellili on several occasions, but have had no conversation with him. It was in April I issued the circular and had it printed. It was printed in Paris. I had about 500 copies distributed.
Re-examined. I never said that Bellili was an Italian spy until I proved that he was.

GIUSEPPE PESCE (known as BOLOGUA), 22, St. James' Walk, Clerkenwell Close. I am a jobbing printer and compositor. I have been in England nearly 20 years. I have known Bellili for about 20 years. I met him in Dean Street, Soho on April 24. I gave him a copy of Malatesta's circular. He said, "Call at my place to-morrow morning and I will give you a copy of my reply to print." He said he wanted to call a jury of honour, three or four of his friends and three or four of theirs to decide whether he was wrong or whether Malatesta was wrong. I saw him again on April 25 and he gave me a copy reply to Malatesta and asked me how much I would charge for printing 1,000 and I said 15s. [15 shillings = 75p] Bellili did not say that he was a police spy. He said he was going to reply to the circular. I am not friends with Bellili over this. I have never seen him sell books to anyone; I have seen some books.
Cross-examined. Two days after I gave Malatesta's circular to Bellili he handed me the manuscript of his circular, which was typewritten. I do a cash business and do not keep books. I printed three proofs and gave one to Malatesta.
Re-examined. I heard Malatesta and Bellili talking about the war.

LUIGUINI DELFRIV , 350, Upper Street, Islington, confectioner. I showed Bellili and Bagaga on April 26 Malatesta's pamphlet. He said that he was going to answer it and that the manuscript was in Beltona's hands. I saw the proof. I do not consider Bellili exactly an Anarchist.

ROSI JULIO , 12, Arthur Street, New Oxford Street, painter and decorator. I have been a friend of Bellili's some yean; I am not now. Bellili said that he was a bookseller, but I have never known him do any business as a bookseller.

ROMERO TOMBOLOSI . I am an Anarchist. Bellili was reputed to be. I heard Bellili was a bookseller, but found out he was not.

ERRICO DEFENDI , 12, Arthur Street, New Oxford Street, grocer. I have been a friend of Bellili, but am not now. For the last nine years I have heard that Bellili was a bookseller, but considered it a lie. I have visited him.
Cross-examined. I went to trade with him, not as a friend.

PIETRO GUILO DUCCI , 12, Wilmington Square, Rosebery Avenue, painter and decorator. I am an Anarchist. I am not now a friend of Bellili's. I ordered five books of him, but only received one.

ALPHONSO SPEIZNOCO , 12, Great Chapel Street, Oxford Street. Bellili said to me that no doubt Malatesta and Mr. Stead had sold themselves to the Turkish Government for a large sum of money.

GEORGIO ANTIBANDO , 17, Church Street, Soho. Bellili said that Malatesta was a Turkish spy paid by the Turks in London, as well as Mr. Stead.
Cross-examined. I gave some of Malatesta's circulars away.

ARDRIANO NOCCILO , 17, Church Street, Soho, gave similar evidence.

LUDORIO BREDA , 17, Church Street, Soho, newsagent, tobacconist and bookseller. I do not think I have sold above 10s. worth of books to Bellili and I never purchased from him above 15s. worth.

GIVONANI MORANI , bookseller and newsagent, Old Compton Street, Soho. I know Bellili, and bought several books from him and sold some to him. I have sold between 30 and 50 francs worth. It is not true that I have purchased 300 or 400 francs worth of books from him.

Verdict, Guilty, the jury finding that the plea of justification was not proved.

Inspector FRANCIS POWELL . Prisoner has been known to the police as an Anarchist of a very dangerous type for a great number of years. He has been imprisoned in his own country and has been expelled from France. He has visited Egypt, Spain, France, Portugal, and, I believe, America, in the interests of Anarchy, and wherever he went there was a great deal of trouble. He is known as the leader of militant Anarchists in this country—in fact, in the world. Many of his former colleagues have passed through this court and had penal servitude for coining. Gardstein, one of the Houndsditch assassins (see Vol. CLV., page 79), had been using prisoner's workshop, or working with him for 12 months. A tube of oxygen that was used on that occasion was traced to prisoner, who stated that he had sold it to Gardstein. That is all that was known. He has never been in the hands of the police in this country, but on one occasion was fined for assaulting a school teacher who chastised his son at school. Bellili is also known in the Anarchist movement. He has been expelled from Belgium, but has never been in the hands of the police in this country.
Cross-examined. With regard to the coiners with whom prisoner associated, I make no suggestion except that they were associated in Anarchy. Prisoner had a workshop and has still. He does electrical engineering to a certain extent, I believe. I do not agree with what Prince Kropotkin says in his book in praise of prisoner. As to prisoner being a Count of Italy, I have heard several things like that, but never took much notice of it. I do not know that he has renounced all his property in Italy for the purpose of his propaganda. I do not know much in his favour. He gave evidence for the prosecution in the Houndsditch case; he was brought there.

W. TCHERKESOFF . I am a Russian Prince. I have known prisoner for 32 years, and am honoured by his friendship. I know no one so honest, so kind, and so impersonal as Malatesta. He is a friend of Prince Kropotkin.
Cross-examined. I came from Russia six years ago. I am an Anarchist.

Sentence: Three months' imprisonment; recommended for expulsion under the Aliens Act; ordered to pay costs of prosecution.

The Old Bailey (Central Criminal Court) 
See past tense blog this month for more on police spies back then, and later.

UPDATE: ... and more on Malatesta and the background to the case, posted 29/5/16 -

And a bit in John Quail, The Slow-Burning Fuse: The Lost History of the British Anarchists, Granada Publishing 1978 (limited new edition/reprint Freedom Press 2014) pp.268-9:- 
p.268 Malatesta 1912. Quoted re Belleli "who used to call himself an Anarchist ... but many look upon him as an Italian police spy." Judge recommended deportation as well as handing out 3 months' sentence, both upheld on appeal... p.269 An Anarchist campaign to have the deportation stopped rapidly spread to the socialist movement as a whole... reams of protests... culminated in massive meeting in Trafalgar Square organised by Guy Aldred. Order lifted 17/6.

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