Flag stunt man pleads guilty and admits ‘Gibraltar is British’
A far-right campaigner who helped unfurl a giant Spanish flag on the Upper Rock has recognised Gibraltar’s British sovereignty and admitted his conduct could have caused a public disturbance.
Juan Ignacio Mínguez Martinez, 53, from Madrid, admitted participating in the ‘politically motivated’ stunt and pleaded guilty to a charge of conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace.
Mínguez was one of a group of Spanish members of the right-wing VOX party who entered as part of a campaign in the run-up to Sunday’s general election in Spain.
The arrest spurred protests on the Spanish side of the border yesterday by campaigners from VOX, whose members were also behind the theft of a concrete block from Gibraltar’s artificial reef.
Prosecutor Johann Fernandez told the court Mínguez, the chairman of the Madrid branch of VOX, carried out reconnaissance in Gibraltar a day before committing the offence.
He was one of a group of at least five men who drove to the Upper Rock through the Moorish Castle entrance on June 20 and placed a 15m long flag on a fire break clearly visible from town.
The flag was removed within 30 minutes, but not before it caused outrage in the community.
The court heard the Royal Gibraltar Police had received numerous reports from angry members of the public.
Mínguez was interviewed by officers of the Royal Gibraltar Police and initially denied any involvement in the flag incident, only to change his version after a day in custody.
Francis Borastero-Porter, a local lawyer who was appointed on legal aid yesterday to represent him, told Stipendiary Magistrate Charles Pitto it was never his client’s intention to cause the Gibraltarian public any problems.
In interviews with both police and with his lawyer, Mínguez expressed “utmost respect” for Gibraltar, but insisted his actions were motivated by his political views.
“He knew that this would not go down well with the Gibraltarians and respects that Gibraltar and its people are British,” Mr Borastero-Porter told the court.
But the lawyer, who stressed his own views were at odds with those of his client, said Mínguez believes the Rock should be Spanish.
The court was also told that Mínguez had thanked the RGP for his “excellent treatment” in custody.
Mr Pitto adjourned the case for sentencing next Tuesday and remanded Mínguez in custody until then.
There is some precedent in Gibraltar law for cases such as this.
Mr Borastero-Porter referred to a previous stunt with a Spanish flag that took place in the Moorish Castle in 1997 and for which a Spanish man was jailed for five days.
The hearing itself was not without its own drama.
During a break in the court session a member of the public notified the court officer that a Spanish lawyer had taken photographs of the courtroom.
The phone was promptly confiscated and investigations began immediately, with the man removed from the courtroom.
Police later confirmed that the 46-year old man had been arrested.
He was held in custody until late yesterday evening, when he accepted a caution for taking the images and was released.
According to a statement issued by VOX, the man was their Madrid-based lawyer, Pedro Fernandez, who had travelled to Gibraltar to assist Mínguez.
At the time of the offence, he had been seated in the public gallery because he has no jurisdiction to practice law in Gibraltar.
In a separate incident, the appearance of Mínguez before the court spurred an emotional outburst from the public gallery.
Local woman Simy Herbert, 67, admitted to contempt of court after shouting at the defendant and accusing him of failing to respect the people of Gibraltar.
“Gibraltar will never be Spanish,” she shouted as Mínguez was led back to cells after his appearance.
Herbert was repeatedly told the keep quiet but continued to shout at Mínguez as was he ushered out of the courtroom by officers.
She apologised to Mr Pitto immediately but the magistrate said he could not tolerate such behaviour in his court.
Herbert’s lawyer, Simon Diable, told the court the outburst was a result of emotions stemming from the moment she first witnessed the Spanish flag on Gibraltarian soil.
But Mr Pitto told her there is no place for emotional outbursts in court.
“If tolerated this would bring court to a standstill,” Mr Pitto said.
He added the apology did not purge the contempt and ordered Herbert to spend around eight hours in detention at New Mole House until 8pm, after which she was released.