After what seems like a dozen separate court appearances for my small piece of resistance at the DSEI arms fair last September, District Judge John Zani today (31 May 2012) found me guilty of Criminal Damage at Westminster Magistrates Court.
At the trial, which finally took place on 10th May (after numerous pre-trial reviews) I freely admitted what I had done but argued that it was justified because of the great harm caused by the arms trade and this arms fair in particular. Using the legal defence of necessity (or duress of circumstances) I argued that I was trying to prevent criminal activity.
I was greatly helped in this by the evidence of Oliver Sprague, arms control expert from Amnesty International, who laid out in detail breeches of export control laws that had taken place at previous DSEI arms fairs and the breeches that took place at the 2011arms fair (see his full witness statement here).
“In my view these are very serious breaches of our own legislation on arms export controls… As previously noted, all of these weapons are now classified as Category A goods. These are reserved for the most serious of weapons, where there is essentially an absolute prohibition on their trade and use. The torture equipment and cluster bombs that were promoted at DSEI 2011 and in previous years rate alongside WMD in their seriousness in terms of current UK law in this area.”
Part of my own evidence & statement argued that:
“The UK is one of the largest producers and exports of arms and military equipment in the world. Everything from machine guns to artillery, from military aircraft and ships, to bombs to bullets have been - and are being exported, causing untold misery. When challenged, the government argues that the proliferation of guns and other military equipment is a good thing - that it enables the vulnerable to be protected, it increases security and provides jobs. This is nonsense. Anyone using the same argument for selling guns in London for example, would simply be laughed out of court
There are controls on the export of arms – controls that have been long fought for by campaigners like myself and many others. The controls however are regularly treated with virtual contempt.
There is so much corruption – at all levels – that principles of good governance and long-term security go out the window for the short term profit. Just recently we saw our Prime Minister – who has himself made speeches calling for democracy in the Middle East, and against the suppression of democracy movements – on an arms sales visit to Saudi Arabia, perhaps one of the least desirable regimes in the world.
Much of what goes on in the arms trade is secret and takes place behind closed doors with like accountability or transparency. The arms fairs that take place are the visible tip of the iceberg.
We have heard evidence that there was in fact unlawful activity taking place at the DSEi arms fair as I acted. We have heard evidence that unlawful activity has taken place previously at the DSEI arms fair. We have heard evidence that the UK authorities did not take any action to prevent this activity.
So I acted by trying as best I could in the circumstances to stop this activity.
I think that given the massive amount of harm that is being done by the arms trade, given that laws that have been brought in to control the arms trade are being broken with virtual impunity, that it was reasonable in the circumstances to act in the way that I did.”
The trial ended with District Judge Zani saying he wanted to reserve his judgment ( in order to consider the legal arguments) and that we should reassemble on 31st May.
His Judgment today – which in essence states I had no lawful excuse in part becasue I could “not have known whether the activites of any of the stallholders at the fair might have contravened any export controls” – is here.
After some discussion about the number of my previous conviction, and the fact that I had breached a conditional discharge for a similar ‘offense’ I was fined and ordered to pay costs and compensation to a total value of £1245. And so begins the next stage…..
Thanks to everyone for their support.
For more info on stopping the arms trade and the DSEI arms fair see:
————————- in memory of Mary Ann Ebert ———————–