Prosecutions fail as arms dealers avoid scrutiny
Following the acquittal of five Christians charged over a protest at the London arms fair, the authorities have dropped charges against other anti-arms activists arrested around the same time. However, two peaceful protesters are still facing trial and will appear in Stratford Magistrates’ Court next week.
On 4th February, five Christians – James Clayton, Symon Hill, Chloe Skinner, Chris Wood and Daniel Woodhouse – were declared ‘Not Guilty’ of aggravated trespass. They had blocked one of the entrances to the London arms fair (Defence & Security Equipment International, or DSEi) on 10th September 2013 by kneeling in prayer and singing hymns. The District Judge ruled that they had a reasonable grounds for expecting the police to give another warning before arresting them.
Dan, Chris, Chloe, Symon and James have thanked the many people who turned up at court to support them and the hundreds more who sent messages of support or prayed about the case.
During the trial, a Ministry of Defence police officer admitted under cross-examination that the police on duty at DSEi had been briefed about possible protests but not about possible illegal activity by arms dealers. This is despite the fact that illegal equipment had been removed from DSEi on the previous five occasions (but only when it was publicly exposed). On the day that the five Christians were arrested, two companies were removed from DSEi for displaying torture equipment. This happened only after it was raised in Parliament and the police officer testified that he had not even been told about it.
Several other peaceful campaigners, both Christian and non-Christian, were due to face trial next week for blocking the road leading to DSEi on 8th September 2013. Yesterday, most of them heard that the charges had been dropped.
It is not clear why this has happened. It may be that the authorities wish to avoid publicity or more questions to police officers about the briefings they are given at DSEi. Those concerned were all planning to run a “necessity” defence, arguing that they intervened at the arms fair to prevent torture, war crimes and other crimes against humanity. This was likely to entail lots of questions about precisely what measures had (or had not) been taken against illegal weapons dealers by police, organisers and the Crown Prosecution Service.
It seems that the authorities are running scared of public scrutiny.
Three still on trial
The arms dealers have had a bad time, with five of their critics acquitted and charges dropped against most of the rest. However, three people are still facing charges and will be in court next week. Siobhan Grimes is an Anglican and a member of Christianity Uncut’s co-ordinating group. Sylvia Boyes is a Quaker with a lifelong record of resistance to war and the arms industry. Daniel Ashman may also be tried; this remains unclear. Your support and prayers are again needed. We offer love and solidarity to them all.
We have a very long way to go to defeat the arms industry and the government’s support for it. But recent weeks have reminded us that public opinion is on our side. The breadth of opposition to the arms trade is increasingly clear.
As recent developments show, the arms industry is frightened of publicity. Let’s publicise it.
“Have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.” – Jesus (Matthew 10,26-27; NRSV).