If we stopped one arms deal, it was worth it

“Superglue protesters avoid jail” declared a headline on ITN this week. As one of the protesters in question, I’m pleased to report that we didn’t only avoid jail. We were acquitted.

The judge declared all five of us “Not Guilty” to the charge of aggravated trespass. I really want to take this opportunity to thank the hundreds of people who have sustained us with encouragement and support. I also want to give my best wishes to other peaceful protesters arrested at the arms fair, who will be on trial in the same court later this month.

I was one of seven Christians who blocked an entrance to the London arms fair (known euphemistically as Defence & Security Equipment International, or DSEi) last September. We did so by kneeling to pray and sing hymns. We delayed arms dealers for nearly an hour.

Five of us – James Clayton, Chloe Skinner, Chris Wood, Dan Woodhouse and me – were arrested and held in cells for most of the day in a police station near King’s Cross, before being charged and released on bail. The other two – Alison Parker and Angela Ditchfield – played an important role in the protest but left before the arrests took place. Others had also been very involved, standing nearby to support us, join us in prayer and help us to negotiate with the police.

Over the last few months, and particularly the last week or two, we have received hundreds of messages of support. Many have come from Christians, of different sorts. There have been several from people of other faiths. I know that those praying for us on the day the trial began included a Muslim in Birmingham and a Pagan in Oxford, as well as lots of Christians. A good many of the messages came from people of no religion, or who did not mention religion, but who shared a common human disgust with the sale of arms, particularly to oppressive regimes.

I have no doubt that the trial, stressful though it was, would have been many, many times harder without all this support and encouragement, from both friends and strangers. I thank God for everyone involved.

There was a reminder of the foul reality of the London arms fair on the very day that we were arrested. Two companies were removed from the fair for selling illegal torture equipment. This happened only after their presence was raised in Parliament. This is the sixth consecutive occasion on which dealers in illegal weaponry have been removed from the London arms fair (always when revealed in public, never proactively). Despite this, not a single prosecution has been brought against any of the companies involved. It is peaceful protesters who end up in the dock.

A significant moment in the trial came when a Ministry of Defence policeman gave evidence for the prosecution. I won’t give his name, as he came off rather badly and I don’t want to humiliate him. He was the officer who arrested me and I can honestly say that I couldn’t hope to be arrested by a nicer person. There was an amusing moment when he testified that while being arrested, I was “shouting loudly throughout in a religious manner”. Or as I would call it, “praying”.

More importantly, the officer admitted under cross-examination that the police on duty at DSEi had been briefed about possible activity by protesters but been told nothing about possible illegal behaviour by arms dealers. This is despite the removal of illegal weaponry on the previous five occasions.

This is clear evidence that, however decent the motivations of individual police officers, the police are deployed at DSEi for the benefit of the arms dealers rather than the impartial enforcement of the law.

This is yet another reminder that the authorities in the UK are in bed with the arms industry.

After a trial lasting a day and a half, the judge acquitted us on the grounds that we had reasonable grounds not to understand a police warning, which the Detective Constable in charge of the case admitted should have been delivered differently.

I am delighted with the outcome of this case. However, I will be happier when people who sell torture equipment on the streets of London are standing in the dock that we recently left.

Nonetheless, I am aware that we held up the arms and torture dealers for nearly an hour. Trains were backed up at Custom House station. I cannot tell who was stopped getting in, or what meetings were prevented, because of our action. But I can say this: If we stopped one arms deal, it was worth it.

Not Guilty: Preparing for my trial next week

There are many things I have done in my life of which I am ashamed. I am guilty of failing to love my neighbour on numerous occasions. There are many sins for which I seek forgiveness from God and others.

One action for which I feel no shame, and over which I bear no guilt, occurred on 10th September last year. Along with six other Christians, I knelt in an entrance to the London arms fair. We sang hymns, prayed together and prevented arms dealers from entering the fair for nearly an hour.

On Monday 3rd and Tuesday 4th February, I will be on trial with four of the others in Stratford Magistrates’ Court in east London. We have all entered pleas of Not Guilty.

DSEi blockade 2013

On the day that we were arrested, two companies were thrown out of the London arms fair (known euphemistically as Defence and Security Equipment International, or DSEi) for displaying illegal torture equipment. They were removed only after their illegality was raised in Parliament. Their staff and bosses were neither arrested nor charged with any crime. It is those of us who tried to prevent the torture deals who are in the dock.

I am on trial with James Clayton, Chloe Skinner, Chris Wood and Daniel Woodhouse. Many thanks too to Angela Ditchfield and Alison Parker, who blocked the entrance with us, and the many who have done so much to support us, particularly Jo Frew.

I have been moved to tears by the messages of support we have received from people with a range of religious, non-religious and political views. I thank God that we are being upheld and assisted by friends and strangers. I am sorry I cannot name you all in this blog. I am conscious that what we have done is fairly minor compared to the actions of peaceful protesters in places such as Bahrain, who risk torture and death from a regime that was able to do weapons deals at the London arms fair.

We’re delighted that several people have already organised a peaceful vigil to be held outside the court on both days, from 9am onwards. There will be a moment of silence and reflection at 10am each day, in memory of the victims of the arms trade. Please come along for any part of the day if you can make it, or join in the the moment of silence from wherever you are, if you are able. If praying is something that you do, that would be great too.

You can also follow developments on Twitter, by following @PutDowntheSword and using the hashtag #StopDSEi. Facebook includes an event page for several arms fair-related trials including this one, while others are leaving messages of support on the Christians Against the Arms Fair page.

We may have a long time to go until the day when we beat our swords into ploughshares, our tanks into tractors and our stun batons into walking sticks. Thanks to everyone whose love and solidarity helps to bring that day closer.

Arms fair court case: Moved to tears by support

Last week, I appeared in court – alongside Chris Wood, Dan Woodhouse, Chloe Skinner and James Clayton – charged under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. We had knelt in prayer in one of the entrances to the London arms fair on 10th September.

We pled Not Guilty. We are expecting to be tried on 3rd and 4th February in Stratford Magistrates’ Court in London.

I have literally been moved to tears by the support we have received. People who had been involved in the original protest met with us before the court hearing to pray and share communion. ┬áSeveral people sat in the public gallery to show their support. I had no idea that most of them would be there. Two others had made a banner the night before, urging courts to “convict arms dealers” and “not human rights defenders”. They held it outside the court as we awaited the hearing. Many people prayed for us and sent us messages of support. One person even wrote a poem about us.

I was overwhelmed. I am more grateful than I can say for all this and am quite sure that I don’t deserve it. People do far more remarkable things every day with far less support and attention. But I can’t deny that the support is helping me through this process. I can’t speak on behalf of the other four, but I know that the support has made a big impact on them too.

As a Christian, I firmly believe that it is the power of the Holy Spirit that is sustaining us. Yet I am delighted that support has come from people of many religions and none. We stand united against the evil of the arms trade and the hypocrisy that defines morality by order rather than justice.