“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.