Two slogan-covered boxes are bundled out of a van in East London. People lie down on the road next to the boxes.
Within seconds, the police are there.
So are the activists’ support team and other protesters.
DSEI, one of the biggest arms fairs in the world, is being set up in the nearby ExCeL Centre.
Within minutes, the four people lying in the road – Chris Cole, Henrietta Cullinan, Jo Frew and Nora Ziegler – have been arrested.
This small action, which took place on 5 September 2017, led directly to a ground-breaking legal judgement by the British supreme court almost four years later, known as Ziegler.
On 25 June 2021, the UK’s highest court changed the legal situation for civil disobedience by declaring that protests which are deliberately obstructive of legal activities can still be legally justified, depending on the circumstances. Chris sums it up this way: ‘It was a great victory, it was great that the court, DJ Hamilton, and then, later, the supreme court, agreed that protest and disrupting normal everyday life is legitimate in some circumstances and it just can’t be criminalised – protest is a valuable contribution to our society and not a kind of irritant that we need to erase.’
The supreme court was upholding the acquittal of Chris, Henrietta, Jo and Nora by a magistrate in East London, Angus Hamilton, in 2018.
One year on, the Ziegler ruling has had huge consequences for many British direct actionists, including the Colston Four (see PN 2659).
This Peace News supplement explores how the supreme court judgement came about, focusing on the experiences of the four Christian peace activists at the heart of the case. We’re not going to try to untangle all the legal ins and outs, but we will explain some of the legal arguments involved.
To begin with, we should acknowledge that, by celebrating the anniversary of the supreme court decision in this way, we’re running a risk – that we may strengthen some unhelpful tendencies.
There is a tendency among many activists, for example, to value arrestable action over less-eye-catching kinds of work for social change.
Protest movements can also fall in with the mainstream media addiction to creating ‘heroes’ and ‘celebrities’ who are somehow better than the rest of us.
This is something that Nora Ziegler, one of the Ziegler Four, wanted to highlight in our conversation. She said: ‘I refuse to play along with putting a few activists on pedestals while ignoring all the people doing such hard work behind the scenes. I’m so sick of it. I’m so sick of, in our movement, certain people being celebrated like heroes while other people are ignored. And that’s not just because I think it’s unfair or whatever. It undermines accountability: it lets the “heroes” off the hook of being answerable to the people who’re affected by what they do; it means the “heroes” don’t have to listen to other people’s experience of their actions. Our protests and organising work have consequences for other people and often there are tensions and conflicts that are hidden away when one side in the conflict is invisible.
‘For example, while I was taking part in protests and direct actions I was also living and working in a community supporting refugees. My activism could potentially endanger the community, for example if the police raided us. At the same time, living with refugees and migrants with no recourse to public funds also informed my activism and made me accountable to some of the most marginalised people in the country. But if my activism is taken out of context and celebrated by a movement that doesn’t know those refugees and migrants even exist then that undermines their power to hold me accountable.
‘In my experiences of direct action, groups need communities, obviously. They need places to stay. They need places where they can make their banners, plan their actions, stay the night before the action. All that stuff. But they take that, and then they leave. What we need is give-and-take. We need activists who are also sometimes cooking the food for others, and cleaning the house, and taking part in that, as well as being supported. And that’s sometimes just not the case – or very often. I think that’s a key part of having that accountability, and making sure that the needs of individual activists or certain groups of activists, certain demographics, don’t end up taking precedence over the needs of others within the same movement.’
Earlier, I’d asked Nora how she felt when she first heard about the supreme court decision. I’d been struck by the lack of happiness or excitement in her reply.
Nora says: ‘Maybe my lack of excitement is because I think I do a lot more important and remarkable things; the stuff that no one ever sees, that won’t ever have a report written about it.’
Nora describes some of her feelings about the supreme court ruling: ‘I think it is a good thing, it is an important thing, but it’s just one among many important things that I do that no one gives a shit about... every time I cook in a soup kitchen, or every time I support someone at court, or every time I go with someone to an appointment about their immigration status, or have another boring meeting about running the Catholic Worker house....’
Nora goes on: ‘I devoted myself to that community, the Catholic Worker, I worked so hard looking after people, always putting everyone else’s needs before mine, and I also really struggle because of it. My mental health took a huge hit from that, as well. But I worked really hard, and I was good at it, you know. It bothers me that that kind of work – and I’m not the only person who does it – that kind of work is not valued.’
Nora continues: ‘Then people suddenly think that I’m an important person to talk to because my name is attached to a judgement that was achieved by other people, the lawyers. That judgement has so little to do with me.’
As Jo, another of the Ziegler Four, says to me: ‘Our action wasn’t anything particularly different or special, it could have been anyone, it could have been any action that the CPS chose to appeal against.’
Nora also says: ‘It’s very coincidental you know. It could have been any action that unfolded into these consequences. I think the credit, in any case, goes to all people who take direct action, in that it’s a really important part of movements for social justice. It’s not only the lawyers; people doing community-building, community organising, all play a part in it.’
Henrietta says: ‘For me, personally, it’s a bit disappointing that something you did that came from your heart and from your beliefs turns into something that becomes part of “the Establishment”, even though it’s an exciting part. I mean, obviously, I didn’t think I didn’t have that right to protest beforehand. I would have argued that I did have the right to stop an arms fair.’
With all these reservations in mind, PN is sure that this victory deserves celebration and that the story behind it is well worth telling. We don’t necessarily agree with every opinion expressed in these pages by the different members of the Ziegler Four, but we do think it is valuable for the peace movement to hear this breadth of perspectives and experiences.
In a way, the supreme court decision and the action give us a chance to take an X-ray of part of the peace movement, and see a little more into the world of direct action.
As well as the Ziegler Four, we will hear from Raj Chada, their solicitor, from a couple of people whose prosecutions have been affected (positively) by the Ziegler decision, and from one member of the support group for the action, Nina Carter-Brown.
Henrietta told me: ‘I remember thinking to myself, when I first started doing direct action, that I didn’t like the idea of being mixed up in something that would go on and on and on for years.’
From the action at DSEI to the supreme court decision, the Ziegler process took three years and nine months.
The action which is at the centre of the supreme court’s decision took place during the run-up to DSEI 2017.
Over the years, there have been hundreds of arrests outside (and sometimes inside) what is often described as the world’s largest arms fair.
From 1976 to 1991, the British government held British army and navy equipment shows in alternate years (in Aldershot for the army, and in Portsmouth for the navy). In September 1993, the government held a merged exhibition. This was then held every other year until the event was privatised by New Labour in 1999. It was also given the new name of DSEI (pronounced by many activists as ‘dicey’). The arms show’s full name today is the ‘Defence and Security Equipment International’ exhibition.
Since 2001, the arms fair has been held every two years at the ExCeL Centre in East London – always accompanied by anti-arms trade and anti-militarist protests.
One of the reasons for the demonstrations has been the parade of dictatorships and human rights abusers invited to DSEI.
In 2015, for example, the DSEI before the Ziegler action, the arms fair hosted delegations from seven of the British foreign office’s ‘human rights priority countries’: Bahrain, Bangladesh, Colombia, Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
There were also delegations from several countries at war, including: Azerbaijan, Brazil, Iraq, Kenya, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.
Campaigners arrested for protesting against DSEI 2015 issued a joint statement in November 2015. They pointed out that ‘numerous buyers were invited to attend from regimes with a documented history of human rights abuses, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, including many actively engaged in illegal wars or occupations’.
The statement also said: ‘We know that the tools of the type promoted for sale at DSEI 2015 will be used to reinforce apartheid, to surveil and brutalise communities from Brixton to Bahrain, and to perpetuate the border regime that kills thousands every year – as European states wage a war against the refugees they helped create. We know that weapons promoted at DSEI are used to incinerate whole families at the touch of a button in places from Palestine to Pakistan. We know that such weapons will continue to devastate landscapes and do permanent environmental damage across the globe. And that these weapons have been used in systematic forced evictions and ethnic cleansing; such as against the people of Kurdistan. And we know that weapons of the type promoted at DSEI will be used to torture and repress people based on their political views, faith, gender, or sexuality in places like Saudi Arabia. Sometimes the tools of oppression are literal – and they are for sale at DSEI arms fair.’
I asked Jo the main thing she was thinking about in September 2017, in relation to DSEI. She answered: ‘It’s always the same, it’s just, there isn’t anything redeemable about it. I used to be involved in anti-capitalist stuff, the WTO [World Trade Organisation] protests and things like that. There could be something redeemable about a world trade organisation... or COP 26. There isn’t anything good that can come out of DSEI, in terms of peace and justice.’
She added: ‘Also, I live in a house of hospitality, kind of like a Catholic Worker, but smaller. We live with people who are refugees – some from oppressive regimes that use military equipment against their own people. So, when you know people, you know how much people struggle because of the arms trade, it adds a personal or interpersonal dimension to the politics and economics of it.’
Jo wrote about the house of hospitality that she lives in, ‘Martha House’, for the Quakers in Britain website in 2016: ‘Martha House offers accommodation for destitute migrants who have no recourse to public funds, providing a home for those who have fled their own countries. It is a house of hospitality, building economic and social alternatives for those who are forced out of our monetary society.... There are two hosts in the house, and it is also our home. We started the project because of our desire to overcome the injustices that forced migrants face in the UK. There are only a handful of hostels and night shelters that will accommodate those with “no recourse to public funds”. This is a total of 90 beds – Martha House will increase that by about 6%.’
The Martha House website says: ‘The hosts, Conor and Jo, live in the house and we try to live together as a community. It is a safe and welcoming home, for both men and women, where everyone is encouraged to share responsibilities like cooking for each other and keeping the house clean. Over the first seven years (2014 – 2021) almost 200 people staying in Martha House (and it might have been more, had the Covid pandemic not restricted numbers). Some stayed for over a year, some for just one night. The rooms are for single people but we have had many families stay for a weekend.’
Jo wrote for the Quakers in 2016 that Martha House is also an open house and hub for the neighbourhood, with a weekly shared meal averaging (then) about 15 people attending: ‘Those who come regularly have a sense of ownership and often do a lot of the cooking and welcoming of new people.’
There were important acquittals at the arms fair before the Ziegler case.
In April 2016, to take just one example, eight protesters who had blocked roads outside DSEI 2015 were acquitted.
It was a very international action, as the activists came from across the world – from Bahrain, Belgium, Chile and Peru, as well as the UK. The eight blockaders were: Isa al-Aali, Angela Ditchfield, Lisa Butler, Thomas Franklin, Javier Gárate, Susannah Mengesha, Luis Tinoco Torrejon and Bram Vranken.
Their legal defence was that they were acting to prevent the illegal sale of torture equipment and weapons to countries that abused human rights. (see PN 2594 – 2595)
This legal argument was based on a solid foundation of fact about what goes on at DSEI.
Before human rights observers were banned from the event, they found illegal advertising activity at every DSEI from 2005 to 2013.
The Amnesty International arms trade expert, Olly Sprague, wrote in 2015: ‘we’ve helped uncover companies advertising everything from leg irons and gang chains to electric shock stun batons and cluster bombs.’ He added: ‘The point is, none of these companies were spotted by any official body tasked with policing the Fair, they were spotted by Amnesty and our partners.’
Neither Sprague nor any other independent human rights observer has been allowed into DSEI since 2013....
Even at the first DSEI in 1999, journalist Paul Donovan exposed the fact that a stand belonging to a Romanian arms company, Romtehnica, was advertising illegal anti-personnel landmines for sale.
Despite all this evidence, no DSEI exhibitor has ever been arrested by police or prosecuted by the crown prosecution service (CPS) for illegal activities at the arms fair.
In 2014, a group of activists calling themselves ‘Arms Dealers On Trial’ managed to get permission to put Magforce International and Tianjin Myway International on trial. These two arms companies had advertised torture weapons for sale at DSEI 2013, breaking British arms export laws.
Unfortunately, the CPS pulled the plug on this private criminal prosecution – while refusing to tackle these crimes itself.
Going back to the April 2016 acquittals of Isa al-Aali and the rest of the eight, these were unfortunately overturned by the high court. This reversal is actually an important development for the story of the Ziegler decision. We will come back to it soon.
The Ziegler Four – Nora Ziegler, Jo Frew, Henrietta Cullinan and Chris Cole – are now bound together in the public mind as a unit.
However, while most of them had worked together quite closely in one way or another, two of them, Nora and Chris, didn’t know each other before this action.
What linked them all together was that all four were Christian peace activists who were willing to take arrestable action against DSEI on the ‘No Faith in War’ day of action, 5 September 2017.
There is a week of action just before DSEI opens at the ExCeL Centre. The idea is to disrupt the set-up of the arms fair, and to draw attention to it before it starts. In 2015, the organisers starting giving days in the week of action a theme. One theme was ‘No Faith in War’, for faith-based resistance.
In 2017, some of the other themed days of action were: ‘Stop Arming Israel’, ‘No to Nuclear & Arms to Renewables’ and ‘Free Movement for People Not Weapons’.
Nora says, of ‘No Faith in War’: ‘We had done it before, two years before. It was quite small and we wanted to do it again, and bigger, and involve more people from different faith groups.’
Nina says: ‘Years and years ago, a few of us [faith-based activists] got together the night before [some anti-DSEI protests] and lit a candle and sat around it, in the corner of where we were staying. As the years have gone on, we’ve gone from lighting a candle in the corner of a room to having a whole day where people of all faiths and none can come together and protest!’
The 2017 ‘No Faith in War’ day of action included: Islamic noon prayers – ‘Zuhr Prayer’; ‘Torah Readings’ led by the radical Jewish group, Jewdas; a guided 30-minute ‘Peace Sit’ meditation led by Wake Up London, a group of young Buddhists; as well as Christian prayers and songs from groups such as Pax Christi and the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship.
The ‘No Faith in War’ organising group wrote in 2017: ‘This is a day for people of any faith, or none, to use their spiritual practices and heritage to resist the arms fair nonviolently. All are welcome and we hope that everyone will stand in solidarity with each other’s actions. It is a day to respect and value what each tradition does to act for peace.’
Like Nora, Jo had become involved in organising ‘No Faith in War’ when it started in 2015. Jo said: ‘I always tried to be involved in the planning, rather than the execution, of the day, because I always knew that, on the day, I would probably be doing something with my affinity group.’
Jo’s affinity group is called ‘Put Down the Sword’. I learned more about PDtS from Nina Carter-Brown, who was a support person for the Ziegler action, and who is, like Jo, a founding member of Put Down the Sword.
Jo and Nina had been part of SPEAK, a group of ‘Christian students who wanted to take action against injustice’, as Nina describes it. SPEAK describes itself as ‘a national network of students and young adults who campaign and pray on issues of global justice’, and ‘a campaign and activist company, charity and participatory network that aims to bring change’.
After getting to knew each other from 2002 onwards, Nina and Jo and some others began to feel drawn to doing direct action, which couldn’t be done in SPEAK, because it was a charity. Other SPEAK people helped to form Put Down the Sword in 2010: Alison Parker, Chloe Skinner, Angela Ditchfield and James Clayton. Non-SPEAK folk also joined in.
Nina tells me that they wanted to carry out nonviolent direct action because ‘It felt like there were some things happening where, if we could actually use our bodies to get in the way, that was what we wanted to do. Direct action was the way to do that, one of the ways.’ The main issues they wanted to take direct action on were the arms trade and nuclear weapons.
I ask Nina to explain how PDtS works. She says: ‘An affinity group is a group of people who come together. It’s about building trust and a commitment to each other and to the group. It’s a group of people who will work together to take self-contained action, sometimes as part of a bigger protest. As a group, we’ll decide what to do, divide the roles out: who’s supporting, who’s legal observing, who’s locking-on, things like that. We’re a friendship group as well, we get together and support each other. That’s how it is for us, I don’t think that’s necessarily for everyone. That’s how ours has developed.
‘We try and meet in person twice a year, maybe for a weekend. We usually kind of meet in preparation for an action; do the action; meet again, like, to go over how it went, where we’re all at now, if we want to do anything else. Our meetings are a mixture of social time and planning and thinking about the action. Also, because the group is faith-based, reflecting and having a bit of time to come together spiritually. We meet online as well.’
At DSEI 2017, Nina was a support person for the action. I ask what other roles she’s taken on in the past and she says: ‘I have locked-on, I’ve helped to organise things like accommodation, organised transport, driven transport, and [been] the support for an action on the day – if it’s hot, maybe putting sunscreen on someone, making sure people are warm and dry, maybe doing a press release as well, doing media.’
Nina says that it was probably a few months before DSEI 2017 that PDtS met up as an affinity group to decide what they wanted to do in the DSEI week of action: ‘We’d kind of had a go-round and said who was comfortable with what role and I think, possibly, there weren’t enough of us available or comfortable with actually, at that point, locking-on in the road, to know that it would be an effective action. We’d worked before with the Catholic Workers and I think probably Jo went to them and asked – it was a group we could trust to work on [something with], and so, yes, I think then it was decided we’d work together.’
Lots of people from Put Down the Sword played important roles in the ‘No Faith in War’ day of action on 5 September 2017, but only two decided in advance to take arrestable action. One person decided to take part in a climbing/ropes action (we’ll hear more about this later). Jo isn’t a climbing-and-ropes person, so she became involved in the rather loose process, in co-operation with the London Catholic Worker, that ended up bringing together the Ziegler Four.
Jo told me that organising the ‘No Faith in War’ day could be tricky: ‘Sometimes, there’s a lot of groups, and they all want to do their own thing, and invite their own people.’
Nora explains the role that No Faith in War Day plays for her: ‘On the one hand, you’ve got people who are literally trying to blockade and stop the arms fair from happening – which I think is important. But, sometimes, when we act strategically, like when we’re trying to achieve a specific political goal or a specific material goal, like we’re gonna stop this arms fair from happening, you have to make a lot of compromises. And, then, there’s an antidote to that, which is when you just have those moments when you can say: “I hate this. I fucking hate this. I refuse this. I don’t want this.”’
Nora sees some complications in this, how you can say “I hate this” while ‘knowing that there’s a certain hypocrisy in that as well’: ‘Because just by me saying “I want no part in this”, it doesn’t mean I don’t have any part in this. I think that’s what I was struggling with before. Because it’s like we all need those moments where we can clearly express how much we hate being complicit in this military, imperial system, of which the arms trade is a really strong pillar. But, at the same time, just by saying that, you’re not really changing anything.’
Nora says that she finds these complications, in a completely different context, doing some union workplace organising where she works: ‘It kills me, having to be so strategic, and careful, and diplomatic, and really engaging on the terms of employers, landlords or the state. Then I need, as an antidote to that, I need those moments where I can just express all my rage and my radical ideas. So the Faith Day was that, you know.’
In terms of how this action came together, Henrietta had gone to a DSEI action planning and training day held by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) much earlier in the year, but nothing very solid seems to have materialised there in terms of building towards this action. Henrietta tells me twice that the process of the four Ziegler activists coming together to do this action was ‘quite haphazard’.
A lot more people were supposed to do the action. The original plan needed eight people to ‘lock-on’ in pairs. A lock-on involves putting your arm into a long reinforced tube and locking your wrist to a bolt or pin driven through the middle of the tube. You have to have a chain or rope tied around your wrist, with a climber’s (snap-link) karabiner attached to it. When you click the karabiner onto the bolt, your arm can’t be pulled out without severely damaging your hand.
Jo explains that there were supposed to be four large boxes arranged in a square formation, with two people locked-on to each of them. Each box was going to be the base for a post that would stand up – and then the posts would be linked together to form a tent or tabernacle, a multi-faith sacred space. (In the Hebrew Bible, the tabernacle – ‘tent of meeting’ – was a movable place of worship used during the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt.)
Jo says: ‘most faiths have, well, the Abrahamic religions I guess have, that as part of their history, being on the move, and having a sort of tent somewhere’. For today, she explains, creating a tabernacle can mean: ‘your faith isn’t in a stuffy building somewhere, but it can be on the street’. Also, there is: ‘the idea of making anywhere redeemable, or at least having a space near an arms fair which is, at least for that day, for those of us with faith, a kind of holy place.’
Nora says that ‘direct action’ is probably not the right description for what they were aiming to do: ‘We knew we wanted to hold the space.’
In this context, I would define ‘direct action’ as ‘directly interfering in or stopping an activity that you believe is morally – and perhaps also legally – wrong’.
Direct action is often also ‘civil disobedience’, which for the purpose of this article we’ll define as refusing to obey a law for reasons of conscience.
If you believe that your action is legally justified, then you’re not disobeying a law, and it’s not a case of civil disobedience. It might just look like that, at first glance, to the authorities – including, maybe, to your arresting officer.
‘Arrestable action’ pretty much covers all these categories. It’s when you do something that is likely to get you arrested – even if what you’re doing is legally justified (to your way of thinking).
So, lying down in the road that goes to the ExCeL Centre, with your arm deep in a lock-on tube, to protest against the DSEI arms fair being constructed inside the exhibition hall nearby, was ‘arrestable’, but it also turned out to be ‘legal’.
That’s what the supreme court eventually said.
One of the things that linked the Ziegler Four together was the London Catholic Worker.
At the time of the action, Nora was living in Guiseppe Conlon House, the London Catholic Worker building in Harringay, North London, not far from Finsbury Park. Henrietta’s never lived there, but she has volunteered there for many years, from 2005 onwards. Jo has been very connected to the Worker, but more as a ‘friend of’ the project.
The Catholic Worker movement dates back to 1933, when it was founded by a left-wing Catholic journalist, Dorothy Day, at the urging of a French worker-scholar, Peter Maurin. At first just a newspaper, The Catholic Worker, the idea became a housed community, a ‘house of hospitality’ giving shelter to the homeless, as well as being a base for resistance to injustice. Today, there are said to be 187 Catholic Worker communities around the world, including 27 Catholic Worker farms (one is in Hertfordshire).
In a note on the movement, Jim Forest, a friend and biographer of Dorothy Day, writes: ‘It is unlikely that any religious community was ever less structured than the Catholic Worker. Each community is autonomous. There is no board of directors, no sponsor, no system of governance, no endowment, no pay checks, no pension plans. Since Dorothy Day’s death, there has been no central leader.’
The basic ideas of the Catholic Worker movement have been described as ‘Christian anarchism’.
On the Euro Catholic Worker website, it says that the London Catholic Worker ‘was brought together by the action of the Jubilee Ploughshares [disarmament action] in 2000’: ‘Those who came together had long sensed the need for a Catholic Worker community of hospitality and resistance in the world’s second imperial city.... We have been given the use of this property [a disused church and attached building] for two years, rent free, as a base for us, as a centre for the “works of mercy”, especially for our work with destitute refugees, who are certainly among those “least of these” who Jesus reminds us are the first in whom we should see God, see the face of the suffering and also dignified and very human Christ.’
We will hear more about Ploughshares later. The Jubilee Ploughshares action took place on 3 November 2000, when Catholic priest Martin Newell and Dutch Catholic Worker Susan van der Hijden entered RAF Wittering in Cambridgeshire and disarmed a Trident nuclear warhead carrier.
Martin and Susan spent six months in prison waiting for their trial. They were found guilty on charges of trespass and criminal damage, and sentenced to 12 months in prison. They were immediately released as they had already spent six months in prison (and prisoners are normally released halfway through their sentences).
While the seeds may have been sown in November 2000, it wasn’t until November 2010 that the London Catholic Worker opened its doors.
The Worker is both a house of hospitality for destitute refugees and asylum-seekers and a secure base for nonviolent action for change. The LCW website says: ‘We focus our resistance on the “war on terror”, arms trade, British nuclear weapons, and solidarity with migrants and refugees. We hope and pray others will be inspired and want to be part of our vision and our work.’
Knowing each other through the Catholic Worker, Henrietta, Jo and Nora had taken part in arrestable actions together, including at DSEI 2015 and at Burghfield, the nuclear warhead assembly and maintenance centre in Berkshire.
Jo had known Chris for a while. At the time of the DSEI 2017 action, she had also just started a stint working at Drone Wars UK, a group that campaigns against killer drones, where Chris is the founder and director.
Chris had known Henrietta through the Catholic Worker and other faith-based activism for a long time. He says: ‘I think I indicated to Jo, who was very much involved at the heart of putting together things for DSEI, that I would be available and interested and wanted to be involved. And she said that there was a small group and if I was willing I could be part of that.’
The first thing I asked in each of my interviews with the Four was how they identified in terms of their faith.
I thought that talking about faith would be an easy way to start, since they had all chosen to take part in a religiously-themed action, as part of a faith-based affinity group, on ‘No Faith in War’ Day.
Everyone struggled with this question in one way or another.
I asked Jo if there was a short three- or four-word description she would find acceptable as a description of her faith.
She replied: ‘Not really, because I feel like the things that I want to say that I am, I don’t know if I am them. You have things that you want to live up to, but.... I would want to say “I’m a Christian anarchist” but I don’t know if I am. I don’t know if I’m a proper anarchist. Or a proper Christian. Who knows? Depends who you ask, I guess.’
When I press her, Jo says: ‘I “attend” a Quaker meeting at the moment, but I wouldn’t say I was exclusively a Quaker.’ (Jo also doesn’t call herself ‘an attender’, which is a recognised position in Quakerism.) Jo adds: ‘I would happily go elsewhere, if I moved somewhere else. It’s about finding a local community that feels right. Or maybe no regular place.’
The first word that comes into Henrietta’s mind when I ask about her faith is ‘community’. That’s her last thing she says on the subject, as well: ‘When I said “community”, I meant sharing dreams or thoughts or prayers with other people, because we all got together. That’s what I mean by “community”.’
Henrietta tells me she was raised as a Christian in the Church of England, and then she converted to Catholicism after she met her husband and other people who were Catholic. (She says: ‘I’m Catholic but I hope I’m a very sort of self-discerning Catholic. I really liked being with the Quakers and I take a lot from that.’)
The minute she experienced the London Catholic Worker, it made sense to her. Making meals for the homeless on a Sunday ‘seemed a lot more meaningful than organised religion’.
Then, ‘while we were preparing the meals, people would talk about direct action’ and she learned more about that. Henrietta joined a group studying the famous verse about turning the other cheek, ‘and I was encouraged to join a blockade outside Aldermaston....’
Henrietta found the Big Blockade a spiritual experience. She told me how she felt as she lay with other people on the road outside Britain’s Aldermaston nuclear bomb factory in Berkshire, in 2010: ‘I just felt so happy. There’s a picture of me laying on the ground and I’ve got this big smile on my face so that was kind of how it made me realise that this is a good thing... I included it in my faith, I suppose.’ She ‘just found this kind of meditative experience of the awareness of the presence of the nuclear weapons factory – almost like penance in a way.’
Henrietta adds: ‘I think the experience of being in a police cell made me closer to Christ but also closer to others – the first time I was arrested, for something else, actually, I was thinking about Chelsea Manning: “This is what she has to endure” – so, I was feeling closer to people who are imprisoned properly. All I did was be there for a day or a day and a night or something....’
Henrietta also talks about going to Afghanistan in December 2016: ‘going to Afghanistan and just meeting people properly, meeting and sharing daily life with ordinary Afghans, mothers like me and young adults, was a transformational experience.... To meet young people just like the ones that I worked with here in London, and to hear about what they were hoping for, their dreams, and they’re in an environment that is just completely awash with weapons. The fact that there is no infrastructure; it has been destroyed because of successive years of war. I think that contributed to my faith in community as well as my personal faith because, obviously, while there I was very much thrown back on my own resources.’
Henrietta’s first peace delegation to Afghanistan was in December 2014, travelling with Voices for Creative Non-Violence UK (which has since renamed itself ‘Afghanistan Peace Projects’). Henrietta wrote later: ‘We stayed with the women’s community of the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APV), who run a community centre, home to humanitarian and cultural projects.’ The centre is called the Borderfree Nonviolence Community Centre, and hosts a women’s tailoring co-operative and many other nonviolence projects.
Henrietta also stayed with the APV when she went to Afghanistan in December 2016. She wrote later: ‘Another group of women I spoke to were seamstresses at the Borderfree Centre. They embroider scarves which are sold in the US and the UK to raise funds for the centre. All having between five and seven children each, their main concern is to feed their families. Despite their husband’s disapproval, they have to go out to work outside the home. Even so the wages are not enough to pay the rent, to buy clothes for their children, food and books for school. “The government doesn’t care about us,” they said, echoing the words of the the women in the refugee camp. They said, “If you want to help, you must give money to us poor people.”
‘The seamstresses said they saw all the huge construction projects, and concluded the government was spending money on these projects and not on alleviating the problems of the poor.
‘Government ministers just use aid to buy each other “a cow or a hen”. I asked if they had any means of making their voices heard, which was translated literally I realised. They said their husbands wouldn’t like it if their voices were heard outside the home. Not able to read or write, their only option would be to join a protest. They didn’t dare go on a demonstration, they said, because the government might come after them, or there might be a bomb.’
Henrietta mentions that, in the Catholic Worker, she has worked with destitute asylum-seekers, but ‘also, I’ve worked a lot in homeless shelters and I used to teach teenagers English… when you’re aware of their vulnerability but also their desire for life, you know?’ That motivated her to resist war and militarism.
Henrietta describes this as ‘another important thread – you’re supposed to work for things that are life-giving, that’s part of my faith – choose things that give life’.
Nora says something similar, after struggling to talk about her faith: ‘I’ve just got so many conflicting thoughts’. She goes on: ‘As I started to talk, I just felt really hypocritical. I find it really hard to talk about faith in a way that isn’t smug and sort of: “Oh, well, I have this spiritual practice that allows me to endure this horrible world.” And it’s, like: “Well, good for you!”’ (She laughs, in a sort of angry way.)
Nora continues: ‘I just don’t understand how people can say they have faith in God, in any kind of God, in any kind of power of the world that they call God, and also at the same time put their faith in war, in borders, for their security and for their wellbeing. I think that’s what I would have said at the time.’
However: ‘I think why I am struggling to say that right now is ’cause that’s also fucking fair enough, you know. That’s what I mean with that smugness.’
Nora describes herself as ‘a Christian and an anarchist’. Despite having lived and worked in a Catholic Worker house for five years, and still being involved in it, Nora has never been a Catholic. Her denomination is Methodist: ‘I just ended up going to the Catholic Worker because they were the only other anarchist Christians that I could find.’
Later, talking about the meaning of ‘No Faith in War’ Day, Nora comes back to the question of what she believes: ‘It was, like: “Let’s come together and express together that we believe in God, we believe in love, we believe in peace, and we think that’s incompatible with the arms trade, we think that’s incompatible with borders, with violence, with war.” And even though, a lot of the time, we may have to make compromises to actually achieve real material change, let’s come together and affirm together that we do believe that this is not just words, we do believe that God is a power in the world, even though it is a power that is often not recognised by people, because it’s a gentle and humble power that works through the grassroots. That’s what I believe: it’s a power that works from below, through the grassroots, through solidarity, through people supporting each other. And that is really contrary to the power from above, the powers from above, that oppress, and manipulate, and exploit.’
For his part, Chris says: ‘I was brought up a practising Roman Catholic and I’ve considered myself, all my life, to be a practising Christian. I come from the Catholic left, the traditional Catholic left, rather than the establishment-base of Catholicism, and I’ve been involved in religious, and particularly Catholic, peace activism since my 20s.’
He adds: ‘I struggle to be part of the Catholic church at the moment, just because of stuff that’s going on. But I am, doctrinally and by practice, a Catholic.’
In terms of the action itself, Chris points out that it was very much about making a direct link between refugees and the arms trade, and the need to open our borders: ‘we all know that exporting arms helps to create refugees and refugees are fleeing from war zones, so we were focused a little bit on that, but I think the primary focus was the arms fair that was taking place, to disrupt that, and to draw attention to the links.’
Chris says: ‘I think it was a Catholic Worker action. I think Henrietta and Nora and Jo were very involved in supporting refugees and I kind of considered myself as a help and support to that.’
I also ask Nina about her faith, and she says: ‘How I think some people understand Christianity isn’t always with social justice and activism and peace and love and equality at the very heart of it – whereas, for me, it is. My inspiration for activism would be Jesus.’
Nina says that she doesn’t see herself in any single strand of Christianity: ‘The church I was going to in Bradford, Soul Space, was linked to the Anglican church, but I wouldn’t say I was Anglican. I was brought up going to Methodist church with my parents, but I wouldn’t say I’m Methodist. I have been to Quaker meetings a little bit, but I wouldn’t say I was Quaker. At the minute, I’m not going to church anywhere, regularly. I wouldn’t sign up to any of them, but my faith is very important to me.’
We’ve come to the night before the action, to a planning meeting at the London Catholic Worker, where it turned out that ‘several people had to drop out because of one thing or another, which just left the four of us’.
That’s Henrietta’s memory. She also told me that the exact details of exactly what would happen only became clear at this evening-before get-together. However, there had been an earlier meeting ‘where we thought we’re going to make prayer banners and that sort of installation [the tabernacle] and then loads of other things were going to happen around it – so other people started making these wooden boxes and arm tubes, and somebody who is an expert in making the tubes volunteered to do that.’
Jo says that the lock-on tubes were ‘quite serious’: ‘I don’t know how long it takes to make them, but it’s quite amazing to see the insides of them.’
Chris says, of the evening-before meeting: ‘I do remember that we clicked together, as a group. Although we were different ages and genders, there was a lot of trust pretty quickly. I suppose that’s because we had a lot of things in common. I don’t remember feeling any stress about it. So that was good.’
This action had a lot of ‘firsts’ in it. It was the first time that two of the Ziegler Four had ever done a lock-on.
Chris had glued himself or taped himself to things as part of protests, but he’d never put his arm into a lock-on tube before.
Henrietta had avoided lock-ons up to that point, ‘because I didn’t really like the idea of being stuck.’
Another ‘first’ was that Nora had never been (properly) arrested before this action. She had been arrested and then ‘de-arrested’ – released on the scene without being taken to a police station for processing.
The action was also a ‘first’ for Henrietta, in a way: she had never been prosecuted for highway obstruction before – only for criminal damage.
Of course, eventually, there was a big ‘first’ for all of them – having their case decided in the supreme court.
Henrietta wrote about the action, after DSEI 2017 was over: ‘On the day, adrenaline gives you a super clear memory and view.’
On the day of the action, Jo can’t remember exactly, but thinks: ‘I would have got up, cycled over to Giuseppe Conlon House at some ungodly hour of the morning. And then, I guess, we put the boxes in the car.’
Nora adds: ‘I think we practised. I think we even practised with the car – as much as we could without neighbours looking at us weirdly.’
Nina had helped find the car and the driver a few weeks earlier: the driver ‘had experience driving for protests which is a skill in itself requiring confidence, calmness and constant thinking about the vehicle and the people in it.’
Henrietta says: ‘The paint was still a bit wet so we had to put newspaper underneath the boxes’ when they went into the car.
Henrietta goes on: ‘I remember we waited under Balfron Tower [in East London], where there was that thing going on between the residents and the developers. I stood there thinking about that, about gentrification. Then we got a bit lost as usual, that sort of thing happens.’
Chris remembers some problems fitting the lock-on tubes into the car, which were overcome. He says: ‘I think we were tucked in quite cramped. I remember someone was using Google [Maps, on their phone], I think it might have been Nora, as the satnav [to guide the group to the ExCeL Centre]. That was the first time I’d ever seen anyone do that! [laughs] Obviously, it’s normal now, but I was kind of amazed about that. But, having said that, we did get lost in some streets. There was also a question of timing. Because there was another action going on at the same time, with people that were hanging from a bridge [near to DSEI]. We wanted to not interfere with each other, so I think we were in touch with someone by phone who was telling us: “Now would be a good time... not yet, wait”, that sort of thing.’
Henrietta thinks the part of the delay might have been to do with some protesters already on the scene ‘slow walking’ in the road.
One way of disrupting the set-up of the arms fair was to stand in the road in front of vehicles carrying exhibition equipment for DSEI, and then walk slowly in the direction of the exhibition centre. The vehicle would be forced to move at a snail’s pace.... ‘Slow walking’ has been used a lot in British anti-fracking protests to disrupt drilling for shale oil.
If DSEI-related vehicles were blocking the road because of slow walking, that could have interfered with the lock-on group getting into position.
The plan, finalised the night before, was to block one of the two approach roads leading to the ExCeL Centre, ‘or at least half of the road, with just the four people’. Those are Henrietta’s words. She told me: ‘I think I hoped that we would be there for about half the day. And I hoped that, because we were there, that somebody else was going to bring some of these banners to put into the boxes and that other activities were going to take place in the road – which has actually happened in previous years. In another year, it was just a sort of relay race. One person would be doing something in the road, and then other people would join in and start singing or praying or whatever, and then another group would come in. I thought that was what was going to happen.’
Nora adds: ‘The idea of the action, of the lock-ons, was that we would hold a space so that people wouldn’t be cleared away, so that the police wouldn’t be able to disrupt the prayerful events that were happening. So that’s why we had these colourful boxes that we decorated beautifully. The idea was that there would be these poles on top of them that would then have prayer flags going from pole to pole, to really create a big space’ for other protesters to occupy.
It didn’t turn out that way.
Nina tells me: ‘On the actual day, me and Alison arrived at the road, and we were putting peace flags up, trying to be ready for anything we could do as soon as the van arrived, to help establish the block as quickly and solidly as possible.
‘Other people were there, seeing the lorries going in [to DSEI], and saying: “Come on, someone get in the road!” And we couldn’t say anything but we knew that very soon there would be a block that was going to be in the road and stop some of these vehicles. When they arrived, we knew what the vehicle looked like, so we could see it coming. We didn’t want to be saying: “Oh, there they are!”’
When the car got to the right bit of the approach road (going in towards the ExCeL Centre), it stopped, and the four jumped out. Jo remembers ‘lots of newspaper blowing everywhere’. They’d put newspaper down under the boxes because they were still wet with paint. ‘And then, as we lifted the boxes out, some paper was stuck to the boxes, but some of it blew off.’
Nina says: ‘They were so heavy, just... they landed wherever they got out of the van. (she laughs) And then the van drove off and that was it. Block established!’
It wasn’t quite so simple from the activists’ point of view.
Jo says she ‘was really stressed about it, like in a high state of adrenaline’: ‘I think it probably looked a bit strange to the police, so they didn’t act very fast, or as fast as we thought they would.’
Nora was also ‘very, very nervous’, doing the action: ‘It’s funny, when I drive through that area now, whenever I’ve driven with friends through that part of London, I still get really nervous.’
The stress, Nora says, was that ‘we knew it had to happen very quickly’: ‘It’s always so stressful because everything you do in that minute matters in the end. You just have to make lots of quick decisions, and I find that really stressful. If I could, I would just plan my entire life ahead of time, so I wouldn’t have to have to endure those kinds of stressful moments. But, yeah, we jumped out, lay down, locked-on, and we had lots of helpers who were gonna set up the prayer poles and stuff.’
Chris and Jo were locked-on to one box, and Henrietta and Nora were locked-on to the other.
Once they were all locked-on, Chris remembers feeling ‘elated, in a state of euphoria that it had worked’, despite there being so many police officers around: ‘I think, for some reason, we caught them by surprise, really. I don’t know why.’
Chris had been nervous beforehand about one thing in particular: ‘I was worried about getting my hand into the lock-on device and actually being locked-on quick enough before they dragged me away.’ When it came to it, ‘I wasn’t quite in, I didn’t quite have my hand in’ when the police came to him – ‘but there were people around saying: “They’re locked-on, they’re locked-on, don’t pull them.” And the police kind of eased off and that kind of gave me enough time to get actually locked-on!’
According to police records, the officers talking to the blockaders went through a five-stage process of trying to persuade the four to unlock themselves and leave the road voluntarily. The blockaders themselves are a bit hazy about what was said by the police at this point.
Henrietta says: ‘Well, I was just laying there with my arm in the box and people kept coming up and asking if I was OK. The policeman kept asking me: “Is there anything I can do to make you move?” or something like that. They’re supposed to ask these questions but, actually, I don’t remember them asking them.’
According to the police, the four arrived and lay down at 8.54am. Nora was arrested just four minutes later, at 8.58am. Henrietta and Chris followed at 9am, and then Jo was arrested at 9.05am.
So, all four blockaders were arrested within 11 minutes of starting their obstruction of the highway.
This was a significant point, later, in terms of whether the police had respected the blockaders’ rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly – whether the police had acted ‘proportionately’ in the circumstances.
The original idea had been to make a sacred space in the road, a tabernacle, with poles in the boxes and prayer flags hung between the poles.
In the event, the person with the poles wasn’t able to get near to put them into the boxes, and the poles (canes) were seized by the police.
Jo says, with regret: ‘We put a lot of effort into the boxes [she laughs] and then they were very quickly dismantled.’ The police wanted to expose the lock-on tubes for the cutters to see.
While they were lying in the road, the four had a lot of ‘support’ from the crowd of anti-DSEI protesters.
Jo: ‘Lots of people come and give you bust cards, and say, “Are you all right?” and “Well done!” and stuff. And that’s nice. But once it’s happened 10 times, you have to say: “No, I really don’t need another bust card.”’
Chris adds: ‘There were lots of people, citizen journalists, sticking a microphone and camera in my face asking: “How do you feel?” [he laughs] “Why are you doing this?” [he laughs some more] After you’ve done that a couple of times, you’ve had enough, you know?’
Henrietta wrote, soon after the action, a journal note about lying in the road: ‘It was suddenly very cold. The sky was blazing down into my eyes. I wished I’d brought sunglasses. But, every time I moved, the police medic and arresting officer would ask me if I was alright.’
Nora tells me: ‘When I was locked in place, it’s just relief: “Okay, I’ve done my part now. That’s all I’ve got to do. I’m not gonna talk to the police: “No comment, no comment, no comment.” Great.’ You just sort of just lie there. Actually, that feeling of vulnerability, I really like that as well, because that’s the moment where, now, other people get involved. Now, it’s up to the others to lead songs or to hand out leaflets, or to observe the police, to do the media and all the messaging around it, all that kind of stuff. That’s nice. That’s an actual collective effort, one also where the whole collective has had a say in how it happens, which is hard with direct action, right? We’d had all these “No Faith in War” meetings where, even if we didn’t discuss the details of the direct action – I keep saying direct action, I guess I mean arrestable action – and people were happy with that happening as having a diversity of tactics on the day. Having some people doing something arrestable, other people being able to just do something low risk.’
Nora seems to have found lying in the road peaceful: ‘Maybe that’s just a personal thing for me, I just find the way you just don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, and you have to make split-second decisions, I find that incredibly stressful. The rest is fine. Whatever.’
Nina says that: ‘As soon as [the lock-on] happened, it sort of boosted everyone. We’d had this Faith Day planned and people were starting to gather for the things that were happening. It’s a real boost when you see things like vehicles stopped from coming into the fair. I know that the people in the road, locking-on, were very keen that the programme ran as planned, and we still had all these other speakers and things happening.’
Nina was a support person for the lock-on action, and she’d also taken on a support role for what’s called ‘the bridge action’ – and she was also ‘helping where needed in the running of the events, along with a lot of other people, because Jo had done a lot of the organising of that, and obviously she couldn’t do a lot on the actual day!’
The bridge action, Nina explains, ‘had been timed to follow the action in the road, it overlapped a little bit, to try and extend this solid time of disruption to the vehicles getting in and out for as long as possible.’
It involved four people abseiling down from a bridge over an access road to the ExCeL Centre, the same road that the lock-on was happening on.
The four, Nicholas Cooper, Sam Donaldson, Louis Dorton and Tom Franklin, were hanging in the way of lorries that were carrying set-up materials for the DSEI arms fair. They had two banners hanging between pairs of climbers. One said: ‘DSEI is state terrorism #StopDSEI’. The other said: ‘Theresa May who would Jesus sanction, starve and then blow to pieces? #StopDSEI’.
Conservative politician Theresa May was the prime minister at the time. The daughter of an Anglican priest, May had said three years earlier, about her Christian faith: ‘It is part of me. It is part of who I am and therefore how I approach things.’
Nina’s role involved walking down the road, away from the lock-on, towards the ExCeL Centre, ‘someone else was a bit further down’ from her: ‘We had to make sure that there was enough time that the vehicles could slow down. My role was alerting the vehicles that there was something ahead that they needed to stop for. I think I was waving vehicles down to stop, it wasn’t just me doing this, I think I had a sign as well in the end.’
It’s hard for Nina now to separate out things she’s done at different DSEIs: ‘I can’t remember, I think some of us were talking to the drivers of the stopped vehicles... some of the years, like, blur. I’ve definitely spoken to drivers before, who’ve stopped, about what’s happening and why we’ve had to stop them. I feel like I might have done that for [the 2017 bridge action] but I can’t quite remember!’
Nina adds that other folk from her affinity group were also involved in the bridge action: ‘I think that Alison was supporting from the top of the bridge and other people from PDtS supporting as well including Matthew Neville and Andrew Metheven.’
Back at the lock-on blockade, Chris remembers it taking the police quite a while ‘to get the cutters to us’.
Henrietta says: ‘I wrote down at the time that it was a bit like being at the dentist – there’s that vibrating drill which I thought was going to go into my arm. You can’t feel anything but vibrating. I kind of just zoned out.’
This is what Henrietta wrote, shortly after the action: ‘I found it quite terrifying, at the same time as trying to reason myself that there was no reason to be afraid. I found myself shivering and feeling slightly panicky as the police started cutting me out of the arm tube. The tube, a thick plastic drainpipe, had layers of duct tape, chicken wire, cement, and inside there were bolts running through the tube that I could attach myself to with a chain and a [karabiner], a kind of shackle. The police asked me if I could detach myself if I wanted to. I started to feel angry with the armtube. I hadn’t really thought in advance about what that would feel like. The police just knocked off the cement with a hammer and chisel, but the feeling of the hammer blows was like something hitting my arm. Then they were grinding through the plastic and I thought of being at the dentist to distract myself from the moment when they would grind through the bolts. But that never happened. They easily lifted my arm out of the tube. I immediately started to feel guilty I hadn’t held on for long enough.’
Chris remembers chatting to the police officer cutting into his arm tube: ‘I go through this whole process of wanting to be nice to people and wanting people to like me, so I was chatting to them, and they were fine. We were talking to them about why we were there, and asking them not to do it, and stuff like that. But they were just being professional and they weren’t in any way pissed off or angry or violent at all. They just went through their job. They’d obviously done it plenty of times before. It was, you know, interesting [laughs] how they did it. I was very curious about what they would do.... I don’t know whether it was true but they were saying they were worried about bits of metal or razorblades being embedded in the tube, and I was saying: “No, no, there’s nothing like that.” I mean, I don’t know whether they genuinely were worried or whether they were, you know, trying to intimate somehow that we were violent. Maybe it’s something they’ve been told in their briefings that they have to watch out for, I don’t know. But, yeah, they were incredibly respectful and making sure we weren’t injured or damaged in any way.’
When I start talking to Jo about this part of the action, she talks about how sexism, religious bias, racism and classism come into play: ‘This is the thing about having all kinds of privilege in this situation: being female, being a Christian pacifist, being white, being middle-class and unnecessarily-highly-educated. The way that police will communicate with me is not bad. I’ve seen at DSEI the difference in the way that people are treated. If I was a man of colour, especially if I was Asian, South Asian, at DSEI, it would be different. I’ve seen police just go for people who’re doing nothing – like one guy, who was a photographer, nothing was happening and he wasn’t doing anything. I guess, because of the “war on terror” they’re on high alert at an event like DSEI. The cutting-out and being arrested is never that terrible for me, but it just shows you how unjust and how racist, how systemically racist, policing is.’
Once they’d been cut out of the arm tubes, about 90 minutes after they first lay down on the road, the Four were taken to a police station to be processed.
Henrietta says: ‘I was scared of being in a police cell because other times I’d been very stressed in a police cell. But this time I just went to sleep. So that bit of it was fine.’
She adds: ‘They were very kind to us. They let me keep my watch and the thing that I was reading. I think I heard them saying: “Why are they arresting these people?” or something.’
Henrietta wrote, soon after DSEI 2017: ‘I did let the adrenaline give me some lovely euphoric thoughts as I enjoyed the solitude and quiet, and the soft blanket.... I wondered why Jesus seemed to be so present. Jesus was waiting for me in the cell. Just as he had been waiting for me in the room in Pakistan.... What did I know while I lay there? It didn’t seem like a terribly good way to stop the arms fair. I knew there would be others risking arrest that day, for whatever action. I didn’t know if illegal weapons would be present in the arms fair. I did know all sorts of others things, that CAAT will tell you about. My own religious convictions....’
She also wrote: ‘Later I found out that, altogether, the #nofaithinwar day had held on for four and a half hours. Altogether, by the end of the week, there were over 100 arrests, some of them just for people standing in the road. I also found out from CAAT that the set-up of the fair was four days behind schedule.’
After doing a stint supporting the bridge action, Nina came back to the Ziegler Four and was there when they were arrested and taken away. She points out: ‘Another thing about affinity groups: as you’re being arrested, you know that there will be someone from your group at the police station when you are released, and also contacting the people you want contacted.’
She adds: ‘As they were being arrested, we were encouraging them, cheering, letting them know we were going to carry on with the day, protesting.’
I ask Nina how she felt as the Four were being arrested, led away and driven off. She says: ‘I think I felt relief that it had gone as well as we'd planned it to go, and thankful that they'd done that and been there. That everything had been safe and we'd stopped the vehicles for a time.’
As far as I can make out, none of the Four were interviewed by the police or charged with anything. They were just held in police cells for several hours and then released on bail.
Chris says he doesn’t remember much about this part, ‘except, you know, like at all of these things, it’s the wonderful Kirsten Bayes that’s around at the end to welcome us and make sure we get home, she does a fantastic job of that.’ Kirsten Bayes is the local outreach co-ordinator for the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).
Also outside the police station was Nina: ‘The police station was quite far out, I went there a bit later on and was there when they were released and some of the bridge action people were also taken there.’ With her were some people from PDtS: Matthew Neville, Steph Neville and Alison Parker, along with other folk, ‘from Green & Black Cross, for example’.
Green & Black Cross (GBC) is an independent grassroots project which has ‘supported thousands of people from many backgrounds in their rebellions and protests – from a 24/7 Legal Support Helpline to Legal Observers on the streets, and from Action Medics at large demos to a kitchen team smuggling flapjacks to students surrounded by police.’
The GBC Training Collective gives legal trainings on protester rights and legal observing. The Resources Collective produces guides, including on how to organise an action and how to challenge the police. Apart from a protester helpline and advice service, there is also an Activist Court Aid Brigade, connected to GBC, which provides post-arrest and court support.
When they were released from custody, each of the Four seems to have had slightly different expectations of what would happen next.
Because he had been released without being charged with an offence, Chris thought: ‘I suppose my expectation was that it would be dropped, as a lot of these things are.’
For her part, Henrietta thought they’d be charged and prosecuted, plead ‘not guilty’, and then be convicted and fined. She’d pay the fine, as she had done before, and that would be the end of it.
Jo also assumed the Four would be put on trial and be convicted of ‘highway obstruction’ – but she expected them to end up with ‘conditional discharges’ rather than fines.
A conditional discharge is when you are found guilty, you get a criminal record, but no other action is taken against you, as long as you don’t commit another offence within a certain period of time.
Earlier in the year, in January 2017, Jo had been given a conditional discharge for six months. (So, that conditional discharge had expired by the time of the September action at DSEI.) Jo was also ordered to pay costs of £100 and a victims’ surcharge of £20. (The money from the surcharge is used to fund victim services, such as rape crisis centres, through the Victim and Witness General Fund.)
That conditional discharge was for a ‘No Faith in Trident’ action that Jo had carried out in June 2016 with four other members of Put Down the Sword: Nina Carter-Brown, Nick Cooper, Angela Ditchfield and Alison Parker.
The PDtS five had blockaded one of the three entra
After the trial, Chris was walking back with Raj: ‘I said to him: “So, was that it? Can they appeal?” And I think he said something like: “Well, yes, but it would be unlikely... very unlikely”.’
‘So, of course, the big shock was that they did appeal.’
When Chris heard that the CPS was appealing and the case would go to the high court, he thought: ‘Great!’
He was surprised: ‘I thought what DJ Hamilton said was so clear. One of the arguments, throughout the whole process, was: “Well, this was the guy that heard the facts, he was the final judgement of the initial facts and initial hearing and he’d heard everything and made that decision.” So, for them to appeal that seemed.... Well, they’re just gonna shoot themselves in the foot.’
Nora remembers Raj talking about the risk of an appeal: ‘I think Raj probably already prepared us for that.’
She remembers being intrigued by what might happen: ‘I think I was then, like: “Oh, this is interesting. This could be cool if the high court upholds that decision.” But, also, there was a danger of them overturning it – which could have consequences for other activists. That’s where it became more, like: “Oh, this action is gonna have consequences more than we initially thought.”
‘But, to be honest, I don’t think I thought about it that much, because at that point it was in the hands of the lawyers, and they were very capable. And I trusted them. And, yeah, we had some amazing lawyers working with us, I mean Blinne and the others. Absolute legends. I think, from that moment, I got more disengaged, in that this is not my fight, this is not my strength. This is what the lawyers are good at. They’ll ask me if they need anything from me.’
Jo was not surprised that the authorities appealed against the acquittal: ‘because, obviously, they go through the rigmarole every two years, when lots of people get arrested at DSEI, and they don’t want anyone to be found “not guilty”.’
Jo was ‘in a sense, not surprised but, at the same time, a bit surprised, because, you know, they’re so strapped for cash, not just cash, but time, and personnel.... Why would they waste time on this? I didn’t understand the significance, really.’
Jo didn’t feel the stakes were very high for her personally, either: ‘I didn’t have any previous convictions. Anyway, not bad ones, like, just for the same thing. Some activists who’ve done things that are much more high-risk, and that have carried greater consequences; for them, that whole process is really difficult, because of the waiting to know. You might get found guilty and that might be quite serious. But for this, obstructing a highway, I didn’t think it would be that serious.’
Why did the authorities appeal against this acquittal? Why didn’t they just let it go?
The problem was that it was more than just one verdict.
In the first place, DJ Hamilton was hearing a lot of the DSEI cases – and probably would in future years. He was applying the same logic that he developed in the Ziegler trial to other cases.
Secondly, at least one other district judge was starting to acquit DSEI protesters on similar grounds.
The Ziegler trial took place at Stratford magistrates’ court on 1 and 2 February 2018.
A week later, on 7 and 8 February, another four DSEI protesters went on trial before DJ Hamilton, the ‘bridge action’ crew: Nicholas Cooper (36), Sam Donaldson (29), Louis Dorton (29) and Tom Franklin (59).
DJ Hamilton found them all not guilty of highway obstruction. When he applied the tests of ‘reasonableness’ that he’d developed in his Ziegler ruling, the bridge-hangers also qualified as having a Convention-rights lawful excuse.
At a DSEI highway obstruction trial that ended at Stratford magistrates a day later, on 9 February 2018, a different magistrate, DJ Jane McIvor, found four out of the five protesters “not guilty”.
DJ McIvor first found that Huda Ammori (23) had ‘no case to answer’ after the prosecution finished presenting its case. Then she dismissed the charges against Tim Hill (32), Sarah Johnson (23) and Rosie Sinfield (28). ‘Had they done this on the Strand [a major road in Central London], it would have been pretty unreasonable,’ but, because the action was ‘very targeted and limited’, it was reasonable, the judge was quoted as saying by the Morning Star.
The prosecution dropped charges against the final defendant, Pelle Kirkeby (30).
In another DSEI trial of five activists, a few days later, charges were dropped against four of them; the fifth protester was acquitted.
There were three Ziegler decisions: ‘Magistrates’ Ziegler’ in 2018, ‘High Court Ziegler’ in 2019, and ‘Supreme Court Ziegler’ in 2021.
In 2018, Magistrates’ Ziegler was proving to be a powerful judgement. It threatened many future DSEI prosecutions. If it wasn’t checked, it might turn into a form of legal immunity for highway obstruction at the arms fair, a blank cheque for certain kinds of anti-arms trade direct action.
And who knew how far the influence of Magistrates’ Ziegler might spread?
For the high court proceedings, Jo told me that she tried to read all the legal papers but she ‘didn’t really know what they were talking about.’ This was despite her having done a master’s degree in international law. (It wasn’t a legal masters but an MA which was mainly about the colonial foundation of international law.)
As a historian, Jo says most academics tend to write 25-page articles but legal scholars write 50- to 60-page articles: ‘I guess they have to get all the caveats in about everything and, for me, it ends up quite confusing.’ (‘Caveats’ are warnings of limitations, conditions or qualifications which make statements more complicated.)
This is when it started becoming confusing for Henrietta, too: ‘Well, I just remember finding it very difficult to understand. Just the sort of court process and, like, we suddenly had barristers and a QC, and that was all paid for, we got legal aid at that point.’
As a solicitor, Raj had been able to represent Nora in the trial at the magistrates’ court level, but he couldn’t represent her in the high court (or the supreme court, eventually).
What Raj could do was ‘instruct’ another lawyer, a barrister, who was allowed to speak and argue in the high court (and in the supreme court, eventually).
The new additions to the legal team were three barristers: Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh of Matrix Chambers; and Henry Blaxland QC and Owen Greenhall of Garden Court Chambers. (What’s a QC? Some senior trial lawyers are appointed ‘QC’ or ‘queen’s counsel’ as a sign of their professional excellence.)
In the Colston Four trial in Bristol, Raj was the solicitor for Jake Skuse, and his firm instructed Blinne as she acted for Rhian Graham.
At this point, we have to talk a bit more about the four bridge action folk.
The CPS also appealed to the high court, asking for a reversal of the acquittals of Nicholas Cooper, Sam Donaldson, Louis Dorton and Tom Franklin. Their cases were ‘joined’ to the Ziegler Four, so that the high court was actually asked to rule on all eight cases.
However, the Ziegler Eight turned back into the Ziegler Four because of a timetabling mistake.
The high court dismissed the appeal in relation to Nicholas and co because the paperwork was put in too late.
The bridge action group had been acquitted on 8 February 2018. Therefore, the prosecution’s application for an appeal ought to have been handed to DJ Hamilton by 1 March (21 days later). Instead, the application was handed in on 12 March.
What may have led the prosecution astray was that DJ Hamilton did not issue his written judgement on the Cooper case until 20 February – and he said explicitly in that paper that the 21-day clock should start ticking on 20 February.
The high court ruled that DJ Hamilton was legally wrong on this (though it seems that it wasn’t previously clear that the clock should always start ticking from the date of the verdict).
This decision by the high court meant that Louis, Nicholas, Sam and Tom remained acquitted by DJ Hamilton, and their case was separated again from the Ziegler Four.
This was not the only way in which the high court contradicted DJ Hamilton.
There is a very technical part of the high court ruling which I’m not going to try to explain in detail but which I should mention.
There are two ways for appeal court judges to rule that the decision of a lower court should be overturned.
They can decide that the judge in the lower court was just wrong.
Alternatively, they can decide that the verdict in the lower court was perverse or unreasonable. (In English law, this is often called ‘Wednesbury irrationality’, after a 1948 case involving cinema screenings on Sundays.)
Both the prosecution and the defence team agreed before the high court hearings that DJ Hamilton’s ruling was going to be challenged on the second ground, not the first; on ‘unreasonableness’, not ‘wrongness’.
Raj Chada, the Ziegler Four solicitor, explained later in a webinar on the Ziegler case that no one, on either side, ‘had prepared for any other type of test’.
Unexpectedly, in Raj’s words: ‘The high court went off on a frolic of its own.’
Without warning, the high court brought in a completely unexpected precedent from family law. There was no opportunity for the defence to put forward other cases to challenge the high court’s line of argument.
The high court allowed the appeal, overturning the acquittals.
We should perhaps name the members of the high court involved. Lord justice Rabinder Singh and Mrs justice Judith Farbey were the two judges who heard the case. They were extremely harsh towards DJ Hamilton.
I think the two judges said the district judge was ‘wrong’ (using that word) five separate times in their judgement.
Here is a crucial section. The judges ruled: ‘In all the circumstances of these cases, we have come to the conclusion that the District Judge did fall into error in a number of respects in his approach to the assessment of proportionality, as we have indicated in going through his individual reasons.
‘Further and in any event, we have come to the overall conclusion that, standing back from those individual features of the cases, his overall assessment of proportionality was at the end of the day “wrong”.
‘This is for the fundamental reason that there was no “fair balance” struck in these cases between the rights of the individuals to protest and the general interest of the community, including the rights of other members of the public to pass along the highway.
‘Rather the ability of other members of the public to go about their lawful business was completely prevented by the physical conduct of these Respondents for a significant period of time. That did not strike a fair balance between the different rights and interests at stake.’
How did all this seem to the defendants?
Henrietta says she felt ‘really disappointed’ by the verdict.
Jo didn’t go to the hearing.
Chris tells me: ‘I missed the high court hearing [he laughs]. I got the time wrong. I thought it was in the afternoon but it was in the morning, so I literally turned up and it had all finished.’
Nora says that she felt ‘not really surprised, but just disappointed’: ‘You know when you’re disappointed that people confirm your bad expectations for them [she laughs] and you’re, like: “Thank you for confirming to me that the justice system is shit.”’
Nora did attend the high court proceedings, ‘but, the thing is, at that point, I was doing other things that were more important to me. I was still at the Catholic Worker. The whole time I was at the London Catholic Worker, I had a million things to work on that were, for me, a lot more important: supporting people at the house with their immigration issues and their personal and interpersonal problems in the house; other activism; other sorts of local organising.’
In her eyes, at this point, ‘it wasn’t our case any more, it was the lawyers’ case, and I trusted that they would represent us, and represent our action, well. It was just an act of trust, you know, towards the lawyers. There’s a possibility that lawyers don’t really agree with, or look down on, radical anarchists. But I didn’t feel that. They respected us, even if they wouldn’t do it themselves, even if they don’t agree with it. They respect our views and what we did, and they’re gonna take this further. But it becomes a different fight. It’s different from doing it. From doing a direct action, or doing a protest, it becomes a legal matter, and that’s just not my area of interest. So, at that point, I was, like: “You know what? Here, you have this, take this. Do what you will with it. I trust you.”’
Nora remembers that the one of the high court judges was someone who had been involved in human rights cases: ‘So, we kind of thought: “Oh, you know, he’s probably sympathetic”. But, also, I remember someone warning us: “Well, actually, the more liberal judges are actually more likely to end up” – this is definitely not the word they used – “betraying activists.” Whereas, a more conservative judge might actually end up being, like: “Magistrates should be able to make their own decisions. Why are you trying to take that power away from them?”’
The other thing Nora remembers is ‘just lots of people coming to support us, standing outside with banners.’ At these kinds of support protests, ‘you always have the anarchists and squatters who will just come along to bring a bit of food or to just provide support, and they won’t say who they are and they won’t be, like: “Oh, I disagree with your tactics”, but they just come and show support. I really love that, I really love people from different groups and different movements who will come and just sort of quietly show support at those kind of things. I think that’s really important and really cool. And it’s important. I see that, and I recognise it, and I really appreciate it.’
Now, I come to a very surprising part of the story.
I had assumed, before starting work on this article, that the reason that the Ziegler Four appealed to the supreme court was that there was an urgent need to overturn a ruling that would be harmful to other activists.
I believed that the high court had set a precedent that would lead to many more convictions for protesters and much less freedom to protest.
It turns out that I wasn’t quite right about this.
Or, as they say in the high court, I was wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.
Raj explained to me: ‘What was strange about the ruling was that the high court appeared to be very much onside. During the course of the hearing, the lead judge, lord justice Rabinder Singh, appeared very much to be taking our points on board. He had questioned the prosecution: did their arguments mean, for example, that Martin Luther King Jr, in Selma, would have been prosecuted with no regard to his human rights? When you read the judgement, until about the last three paragraphs, it’s really good.’
Raj went on: ‘It’s quite unusual to have felt that we got three-quarters of the way there. There was an element of frustration about it, that what the high court had been quite good at was an analysis of how human rights should apply within these contexts.’
The high court’s analysis was so good, Raj says, that he still often uses it in current cases ‘rather than the supreme court judgement’: ‘If you want to understand how this works from first principles, you need to consider the high court judgement.’
But then the high court said that if the defendants have deliberately obstructed traffic, then they couldn’t see how they would ever have a defence. Raj: ‘It, in a way, undid everything that they did in the previous three-quarters of the judgement.’ There was ‘a frustration that we so nearly got there and yet failed at the last hurdle’, after ‘we’d won nearly all the legal arguments’.
What the high court judges had in mind, Raj says, ‘was a sort of traditional civil rights march or civil disobedience’ where disruption or obstruction is a by-product of the protest. The point of the action is, say, to march from Selma to Montgomery. It just so happens that there are so many people marching that it takes up the whole road, meaning no cars can pass or re-pass. Or the point of the action is to have a mass sit-down as a symbolic protest. It just so happens that there are so many people that they have to sit in the road, meaning no cars can pass or re-pass.
Those kinds of things, the high court judges seemed to be able to accept could in certain circumstances be ‘reasonable’ uses of the highway. But deliberately sitting in the road in order to stop people using the road – they could not swallow that.
Raj says that the high court’s attitude to deliberately obstructive protest ‘didn’t really logically, or indeed legally, fit with the rest of the judgement, which says: “You have to look at each set of circumstances in isolation. You need to consider the defendants’ human rights. And then you need to consider the effect of the defendants’ actions on other people, and you balance the two out.”’
I asked Raj what would have happened if the Ziegler Four had not appealed to the supreme court: what would have been the implications for protesters if the high court decision had stood?
Raj said that ‘the high court decision, as I say, was quite good and we actually used it extensively in protest cases. Even if the high court decision had stood, there was enough in there that gave us a new way to look at protest cases.’
Raj told me that after the high court decision, ‘there were large numbers of cases in which this argument was pursued and we still won some of them. We lost more, but we still won some of them.’
He told me about an Extinction Rebellion action at City Airport, during one of the XR rebellions, where the defendant, ‘his bottom had barely touched the road before he was arrested’. Raj was able to use High Court Ziegler ‘because it talked about the length of time’: ‘We said: “Well, look, this cannot be a proportionate interference with the defendant’s right to free speech because he barely had arrived at the demo, and you’d arrested him.” And the magistrates agreed with that. So, there were successes under High Court Ziegler.’
Raj told me: ‘Frankly, within the legal team, there was a great deal of discussion about whether to appeal’ against the high court decision: ‘I, perhaps ironically, was one of the most cautious. We had made significant progress.’
Before High Court Ziegler, the law was interpreted as saying that the primary purpose of the highway was ‘to pass and re-pass’. That made protest cases really difficult.
Raj explains that ‘High Court Ziegler knocked that out completely’. The High Court Ziegler decision (in paragraph 108) said that there was no primary right for one particular section of the community. Passing and re-passing was just one purpose of the highway. As Raj puts it: ‘You just have to balance all of the rights. That was an incredibly powerful statement. And, again, we used that extensively.’
Raj was concerned that, if they appealed against High Court Ziegler, the supreme court might reinstate the ‘primary purpose’ of the highway as being passing and re-passing.
Raj says: ‘In my view, there was something to lose. I appear regularly in the lower courts, so I’d seen, actually, High Court Ziegler had had some good effects and was working reasonably well. So, I could see that there was something to lose. But, eventually, we all decided that we had to appeal, because of this issue of deliberate obstruction. And the supreme court judgement is so much better.’
I won’t try to go through the high court ruling but I will quote two sentences to show what Raj is talking about.
Do you remember we talked earlier about Brian Haw and his display in Parliament Square? Where Mr justice Gray said: ‘the existence of the right to freedom of expression conferred by Article 10 is a significant consideration when assessing the reasonableness of any obstruction to which the protest gives rise’?
The high court ruling quotes this and then says: ‘We agree that the Convention rights do not give defendants a “trump card.” However, we would respectfully go further than Gray J did and suggest that the Convention rights are not merely a significant consideration but that any interference with them must be shown to be proportionate.’
You can see here how the high court has taken a step forward in terms of the right to protest (in line with DJ Hamilton’s judgement, in fact).
Chris remembers the discussion that finally led to the decision to appeal to the supreme court: ‘I think all four of us were worried about it going to the supreme court and us losing. Then that would really be a difficult precedent. But Raj was insisting that, because the high court had made this decision, it was already going to be a difficult precedent, so, in a way, we couldn’t lose. Because it was at the high court and they ruled against us, that would be forever. People would be referring to it, in other cases, that you couldn’t have lawful excuse or Convention rights if you blocked the road. So, I think that persuaded us.’
Chris says: ‘The lawyers were so keen, they really felt that it must be appealed. I’m not sure they were convinced they would win but I think they felt: “We just can’t leave this, it has to be appealed in order to challenge the situation.” Of course, once it was at that level, although they did try to include us, it was above our heads in terms of legal arguments and the legal reasoning. I think we all tried to keep up with it but, you know, I think we would all acknowledge that they took the lead very much and made the arguments and decided the strategy.’
One of the Ziegler barristers, Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh, saw High Court Ziegler as a ‘Pyrrhic victory’ – a win as damaging as a loss.
In a webinar held by her legal firm, Matrix Chambers, in September 2021, Blinne said that, in overturning the acquittals, in the circumstances of the Ziegler action, the high court had, in effect, just ‘recast the primacy of the right to pass and re-pass in purportedly Convention-compliant terms.’
In Blinne’s eyes, the high court convicting the Ziegler Four was pretty much the same as restoring ‘passing and re-passing’ as the primary use of the highway – after having announced that there was no longer any primary use of the highway.
Blinne said, in the webinar: ‘The facts in Ziegler really were as good as they were ever going to be in a protest case. The protest was, philosophical considerations aside, as a matter of law, an entirely peaceful, nonviolent protest. There was limited, if any, evidence of obstruction actually being caused to anybody. There were alternative routes to the DSEI arms fair. The arrests of the protesters were made within minutes of them beginning their protest. There was no tolerance whatsoever of their protest or their chosen mode of protest. There was no broader public disorder. There were no complaints by members of the public, etcetera.’
If even this kind of obstructive protest was not allowed a lawful excuse; ‘It was difficult to see in what circumstances a protester deliberately causing an obstruction that was more than minimal could ever really have ultimately been acquitted.’
The high court ruling may have been a big step forward, legally, but it was a big step backwards for the Ziegler Four.
The high court said that their acquittal was overturned, they had been convicted of highway obstruction... and they had to go back to Stratford magistrates’ court to be sentenced for their crime.
Some of the Four were annoyed by this. Some were not that concerned.
Jo says: ‘If I’m honest, my main memory is of cycling [to the courthouse] down the River Lea, and cycling back. It was a beautiful sunny day, and I didn’t really care, because it wasn’t a huge sentence. There’s other things in life that are more important to dwell on. Well, actually, I tell a lie because that was early 2019. I was a little bit worried that, if I had a conditional discharge, it would impact my decision-making about what I did for DSEI in [September] 2019. But, in the end, it didn’t. I just did it anyway.’
(I asked what she did at DSEI 2019. Jo said: ‘Similar, jumped out of a car with a lock-on. But no boxes this time. And at a different place on the road.’ It was a four-person Put Down the Sword action. Jo remembers: ‘When we finally got cut out, and stood up, there were hundreds of Quakers in the road, and that was really beautiful. That was really nice because that number of people, on a No Faith in War Day, hadn’t happened before.’)
Nora says of the sentencing: ‘I remember being really pissed off, that they gave us 12 months’ conditional discharge – which would include the next DSEI. “Really pissed off” is maybe an exaggeration. I was just, like: “Come on!”’
Chris was also annoyed: ‘It really stuck in our craw, you know. We had another date in court and so we turned up to be sentenced. I think we got a conditional discharge for 12 months. Then we had to pay court costs which, for me, it was really galling. I remember it being really unfair. Lots of stuff that I’ve gone through, I don’t know, I haven’t taken it that way, but I found it very unfair, the whole of that day.’
In contrast, Henrietta remembers the sentencing as ‘a friendly occasion’: ‘It was just sort of quite cosy, just the four of us, with Raj, and the magistrate. I just remember that she noticed that none of us earned very much, so she set the fine really low.’
Henrietta also remembers: ‘Some people came up to sit with us, and my daughter came. I just really value how supportive people are. A woman who lives quite near me came and she brought a thermos.’
The trial in the magistrates’ court and the high court appeal happened BC: Before COVID.
By the time the Ziegler case reached the supreme court on 12 January 2021, the UK was 10 months into the COVID-19 pandemic.
The defendants followed the supreme court proceedings through an official online video livestream (not Zoom).
Henrietta remembers: ‘A whole different set of people decided to support us, some quite grand people had decided to listen to it [over the internet]. It just seemed very weird that the judges were all sitting in their rooms and the barristers looked as if they were sitting each in their own classroom or something. It was really hard to concentrate.
‘We had a WhatsApp group where we were texting each other what was going on. I remember one friend texting: “This is like watching paint dry. I’m going to stop now.”
‘It seems like the higher up you get, the more “umming” and “ahhing” there is.
‘By that stage, it’s all legal arguments and they barely mentioned the lock-on or anything.’
At about this time in her life, Henrietta says: ‘I found out that I have autism. I don’t know if that’s what made it inaccessible, I just found it really hard to follow the language. I think if it was written down, I could follow it.’
When I ask how her autism comes into this story, if at all, Henrietta says: ‘I think it’s to do with the rather, I wouldn’t describe it as “black-or-white”, but my basic holding on to the idea that to design, manufacture and create something that is going to kill somebody is wrong. The fact that I see it in that way has something to do with my autism, maybe.
‘Also, I have sometimes got really into all the technical details of weapons, you know. I’ve kind of tried to stop myself doing that. But, for some reason, it doesn’t make me interested in legal arguments!’
Jo watched some of the supreme court proceedings: ‘I think I was working at the time, so I sort of had it on a small bit of my computer. My mum watched more of it than I did, but she’s retired so she has more time. I think she quite enjoyed it. Her older brother is a retired solicitor, and he’s very conservative with a big “C” and a small “c”. I think she kinda likes to wind him up about this whole situation, so I think she was quite keen to know what she was talking about.’
Jo tried to keep track of the legal arguments, but it was hard: ‘I don’t know, my interest sort of fades pretty quickly reading legal documents. I’m very grateful for people who like that, and understand it, not just people like Raj and everyone at [the legal firm] Bindmans but, like, GBC [Green & Black Cross], Activist Legal Project and, you know, all these people that get really into it and are supporting as well as answering questions – and saying things like: “Wow, this is really important. This is great.” [she laughs] And you’re, like: “Okay....”’
Nora says: ‘I didn’t really understand what was going on. I just remember a bunch of old white men talking. I was sort of half-following it. It was dry. I think I was doing something else and I had it on my screen.’
Chris was at home: ‘I watched the whole thing and I remember being absolutely convinced after hearing the prosecution side that we didn’t stand a chance and absolutely convinced we’d won after I’d heard the defence case. So, thank God I’ve never been on a jury.’
He remembers quite a bit of what was said: ‘I mean, our arguments, you know, made a great deal of sense, I mean, there were several arguments, several strands of the different arguments.
‘I think, for me, one of the strongest was that it was up to the court of fact-finding to make these decisions and it shouldn’t just be overridden. Obviously, you can have appeals, obviously, but the way that the high court had wiped out all the decisions and the findings of fact made by DJ Hamilton... there was something just plain wrong about that.
‘Also, the quote from the supreme court that some disruption of ordinary society has to be, at some level, acceptable. I think that argument very much played out and we were just right on the button with that argument.
‘I think the facts of our case were in our favour as well as, you know, the wonderful legal arguments. The fact that we’d made very carefully sure to only block the entrance to DSEI, so it was all about DSEI; there was no evidence at all of anyone actually being blocked – the only thing was that there were some people passing by that may have been disturbed.’
What did the supreme court decide?
The supreme court ‘judgment’ actually has three legal opinions in it. Two make up the majority view that the Ziegler Four should have their acquittal restored to them. A third (dissenting) opinion thought that they should be sent back to the magistrates to be tried again.
All three opinions agreed that, in principle, ‘deliberate physically obstructive conduct by protesters’ can, in certain circumstances, be lawful. In other words, protests whose purpose is to obstruct legal activities by other people can have a ‘lawful excuse’, depending on the circumstances.
Raj summed up: ‘The key to the judgement was, firstly, it said that the state and, that included the court, had to ensure that a conviction was a proportionate interference with the defendants right to free speech. And what that meant was they had to look at the right to free speech on one hand, and then they had to look at the interference with the rights of others. And they had to balance the two up. And, if they weren’t sure that [conviction] was a proportionate interference, they should acquit.’
Raj continued: ‘That formulation had never been put in that way, in my view, in the lower courts’ – in magistrates’ courts. It wasn’t completely revolutionary, said Raj, ‘but to express it in those clear terms gave a completely different outlook to how future cases would be looked at.’
One of the three Ziegler barristers, Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh, explained the Ziegler decision in a webinar held by her legal firm, Matrix Chambers, in September 2021. The webinar was called: ‘Obstructing The Right to Protest vs The Right to Obstructive Protest’. The whole of Blinne’s talk is well worth watching; we’ll just pick out three points.
After quoting from the main opinion and the dissenting opinion, Blinne summarised the message of the sections she’d highlighted: ‘deliberately obstructive protests, which cause more than minimal obstruction, are not to be approached with any preconception as to their lawfulness.’
Blinne then picked out a related line from the third opinion in the ruling: ‘The Human Rights Act 1998 has had a substantial effect on public order offences and made it important not to approach them with any preconception as to what is or is not lawful.’
Lady Arden’s ruling here isn’t just about highway obstruction, or even just obstruction. She is talking about all public order offences, a very important development.
From one point of view, the Ziegler decision is about what protesters are legally allowed to do.
From another point of view, Ziegler is about what the authorities are legally allowed to do to protesters – what restrictions they’re allowed to place on nonviolent protests.
Blinne pointed out in the Matrix Chambers webinar that the supreme court said that arrest, prosecution, conviction and sentencing are all restrictions on the Convention rights of protesters.
The court set out a sort of ladder of reasonableness (my words, not Blinne’s).
A police officer on the scene of a protest might reasonably think they’re justified in arresting a protester but, later, when more facts are available, it might not be justified to prosecute them.
Or, if it is reasonable (on the facts available at the time) to prosecute, it might be that more facts become available during the trial, so that it isn’t justified to convict.
Finally, it might be right to convict a protester, but the circumstances of the protest might mean that some of the possible sentences are not a ‘proportional’ way of dealing with them.
At each level, the decision-maker must make a fresh assessment of the facts available to them, in relation to ‘proportionality’, before deciding to restrict the Convention rights of the protester.
Deciding whether a particular restriction on a protest was proportional or not was defined by the supreme court as a ‘fact-specific enquiry’.
That was another important part of the ruling.
In a magistrates’ court, the district judge decides on the facts.
In crown court, where more serious cases are heard, it is the jury who decides on the facts.
The supreme court ruling actually specifically mentions the role of ‘a jury’ in relation to this.
Putting the jury in charge of this proportionality decision, Blinne said ‘is capable of being game-changing in criminal trials.’
Let’s go back to the second point and go through it in more detail. It is actually very practical for the average protester as well as for the average direct actionist.
The supreme court put a burden of responsibility, in terms of protecting protesters’ Convention rights, not just on judges and juries and prosecutors, but also on police officers.
In my interview with him, Raj explained: ‘It means the arresting officer has to assess whether or not their action – ie the arrest – is a proportionate interference [with someone’s Convention rights]. So, they would have to assess: “Look, here’s somebody protesting. I’m about to interfere with their right to free speech. Is that a good and proper exercise of my discretion? Or is there another way to deal with it?” Really, what it comes down to is that it places greater emphasis on the police to consider alternatives. So, is there an alternative? For example, you give the protesters a warning: “Look, we’ll let you protest for a couple of hours, but then, thereafter, you must move.” So, there’s greater weight placed on the police to at least consider alternatives. And consider what the effect of an arrest would be. I think that that is quite profound.’
Raj explained to me that these principles, laid down in Ziegler, were the basis for a high court ruling against the Metropolitan police in relation to their handling of the Sarah Everard vigil on Clapham Common on 13 March 2021.
The police told the women trying to organise the socially-distanced vigil that it would be unlawful and that, if they went ahead, they could be fined up to £10,000 or even prosecuted under the Serious Crime Act 2007.
As a result, the women officially cancelled the vigil – which went ahead anyway (led by the direct action group Sisters Uncut), but without the safeguards that Reclaim These Streets would have put in place.
Raj told me: ‘The police were held, on the basis of Ziegler principles, to have unlawfully restricted the protesters’ right to free speech. Ziegler was cited extensively in that judgement.’
The Law Society Gazette reported on 11 March 2022: ‘The High Court ruled that six decisions made by the Met before the planned vigil were unlawful, as the force failed to consider that someone organising or attending a gathering would have a reasonable excuse if they were lawfully exercising their Article 10 and 11 rights.’
The Met had acted on the basis of guidance from the College of Policing, according to the Law Society Gazette: ‘The guidance wrongly stated that there was no exception for protest and failed to reflect the principles set out by the Supreme Court in the landmark protest case of Ziegler and the Court of Appeal in a challenge to Covid-19 restrictions in Dolan, [lord justice] Warby held.’
Raj said, of the police intimidation of the women organising the Sarah Everard vigil: ‘That was not, obviously, a conviction. It wasn’t even an arrest, in that case. What it was, was a police decision. And what the high court said was: “Well, look, you’re a state body, you have to balance up all of these rights and, in this case, you didn’t do that. You just blanket-banned everything and you’re not allowed to do that.”’
When it comes to fundamental rights, Raj told me, ‘you always look at what’s called the balancing exercise’: ‘You look and see this is a fundamental right. People should ordinarily be allowed to exercise it. If they’re exercising it in a way that risks other things, you just have to balance it up.’ In the case of the Sarah Everard vigil, ‘they didn’t do that properly.’
The high court said that the police needed to carry out a ‘fact-specific proportionality assessment’.
That is the Ziegler requirement.
Raj went into a few of the different things that a police officer now has to think about, because of Supreme Court Ziegler, before they take action against a protest: ‘So, for example, one of the issues that was highly relevant in Ziegler was that there was an alternative route into DSEI. That’s one issue to consider, whether the highway is completely blocked, for example, if it’s a highway case.’
There’s also ‘the extent of the interference with other people’s rights.’
The supreme court also reaffirmed that an important question is ‘whether it’s an issue of huge public importance’: ‘If you are protesting because your post didn’t arrive today, as compared to, you know, fundamental issues of racism in society, or a war, then obviously that will be judged in the balance.’
Raj pointed out: ‘That’s quite an interesting and important issue as well for activists, that they can bring to bear in the courtroom: “Why this is an important issue.” The state is not allowed to judge the rights and wrongs of your right to free speech, they’re not allowed to do that. But what they are allowed do is to say that this is an important issue in society, so it should be given an airing.’
Raj summed up: ‘So, there’s a list of factors that Ziegler refers to, which is meant to assist the courts in trying to work out how to do this balancing exercise and, indeed, to assist the police.’
‘After the supreme court decision,’ Raj told me, ‘the CPS dropped a large number of cases.’ (That’s the crown prosecution service.)
Kirsten Bayes, the local outreach co-ordinator for the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), says: ‘Regarding impact, Ziegler has pretty much come up in all the protest-related cases I have supported since the judgement. It has become something of a measuring stick for what makes a direct action protest “reasonable” from the perspective of the law, and sets limits on how the police can respond. I am not a lawyer but, for me, this case was another small piece of freedom for the ordinary citizen to resist oppression, that was carefully and painstakingly won from the state.’
I talked to a couple of Extinction Rebellion (XR) climate activists who’ve benefited from Ziegler.
One was Amelia Halls, a member of XR Youth, who was 23 when she became the third XR protester to benefit from Ziegler in terms of a conviction being overturned.
Ams was one of 50 XR rebels arrested at London City Airport in October 2019, during an XR ‘International Rebellion’. (The rebellion as a whole saw over 1,100 arrests in and around London.)
Ams was convicted of highway obstruction in April 2021. City of London magistrates court gave her a six-month conditional discharge and ordered her to pay £400 in court costs.
Ams says that she decided to appeal against her conviction partly ‘as a continued tactic of civil disobedience to continue pushing the courts, to continue taking up the court’s time’.
At the same time, she says: ‘I think that I thought there was a chance that I could win.’
Her appeal was set for 5 August 2021, about six weeks after the Ziegler decision was handed down by the supreme court.
The evening before her hearing at London’s central criminal court (known as ‘the Old Bailey’), Ams was rung up by her lawyer, who had received a message from the court.
Ams says: ‘My solicitor got an email from the court the evening before, that wasn’t entirely clear, it said something about not challenging the appeal, but it didn’t say Ziegler in it. My solicitor said you still need to turn up to court because it hasn’t been officially dropped. We discussed the fact that it could be related to Ziegler.’
Ams was represented by Adeela Khan, of the law firm Edward Fail, Bradshaw and Waterson, who instructed a barrister, Shina Animashaun, of Garden Court Chambers.
In court the next day, the prosecution said they were not challenging the appeal, so the appeal was successful. Ams’s conviction was overturned. She says: ‘I was really thrilled, really delighted. That had been my first conviction and to get it overturned was amazing. To know that it was the Ziegler ruling that meant it was overturned was really great because it showed that these rulings and this pushing the courts to make these sorts of decisions works. We are on the right side of history and these rulings are showing that.’
Ams was the third XR protester to have their conviction overturned. Before her were Emma-Rose Goodwin (then 47) on 3 August 2021 and Robert MacQueen (then 65) on 4 August, the day before Ams.
Another person I talked to was one of XR’s most high-profile activists, Cathy Eastburn.
Cathy told me: ‘Amongst people I know, in networks like Extinction Rebellion, Insulate Britain and Just Stop Oil, pretty much everyone has heard of Ziegler. Generally, we all remember a year ago when that acquittal happened, it just felt like a massive step in the right direction. It felt like a massive victory.’
Cathy went on: ‘I only found out quite a long time after the initial ruling that Ziegler was a human being, a woman called Nora who sat down in the road to block an arms fair, with some other people.
‘It’s important to remember Ziegler is a real human being who did something amazing, who was criminalised for it, but then, fortunately, the courts saw sense and did the right thing.
‘The way it affected me, personally, was that I was acquitted in a magistrates court earlier this year.’
Back in September 2020, Cathy had been sitting in the road outside Parliament Square, while prime minister’s questions was going on inside. She was with 15 to 20 others, during an Extinction Rebellion rebellion: ‘I hadn’t glued-on [to the road] or anything. We were sounding the alarm and trying to raise awareness of the Climate and Ecological Emergency bill, CEE bill, which had been presented to parliament the day before and was being completely ignored by all the main parties.
‘We were also there to practise “going floppy” when arrested. We were sitting, waving pink XR banners, and singing the ridiculous “Floppy Song”, written specially for the occasion – “Floppy to the left, floppy to the right, floppy all day and floppy all night....” The police swooped in and dragged us off really fast. Within 15 to 20 minutes, we’d all been arrested and taken off the road.’
Cathy and the others were arrested for breaking a section 14 public order notice, imposing conditions on a public assembly under the Public Order Act 1986.
On 28 January, City of London magistrates’ court found Cathy not guilty: ‘I wasn’t acquitted on a technicality, which sometimes people are. I was acquitted because of Ziegler. The magistrate was very thorough, going through the Ziegler ruling, point-by-point.
‘Basically, it boiled down to: it wouldn’t have been proportionate to convict me.
‘I was obviously delighted. Absolutely, that was the right thing to do. I should not have been arrested in the first place.
‘Unfortunately, as is the way of these things, the CPS cannot let it lie. They’re appealing. So it could be a repeat of Ziegler! We haven’t got a date yet, the appeal could be this summer.’
Raj describes Ziegler as ‘a landmark judgement, a seminal judgement’ which has had a profound effect on cases after it: ‘But what’s also happened is that there’s been a fight-back. The prosecution and the state have sought to try to limit it – and will be seeking, no doubt, to try to reverse it at some point.’
In the Matrix Chambers webinar, Blinne said: ‘It is a fantastic judgement, but it’s unlikely to be the last stage of the story.’
In April, the attorney general, Suella Braverman, referred the Colston Four acquittal to the court of appeal, in order to try to restrict the uses of Ziegler.
If successful, the appeal would not overturn any Colston acquittals, but it would stop other protesters charged with criminal damage from calling on the Ziegler principles in their legal defence, in the future.
This is the government’s description of what Braverman is doing: ‘The Court of Appeal will be asked to clarify the law around whether someone can use a defence related to their human rights when they are accused of criminal damage. The Court will also consider whether juries should be asked to decide if a conviction for criminal damage is a “proportionate interference” with the human rights of the accused, particularly the right to protest and freedom of expression. In the Colston statue case, the judge directed the jury that, before they could convict, they must be sure that doing so would be a “proportionate interference” (in other words compatible) with the defendants’ exercise of their rights to freedom of thought and to freedom of expression.’
More fundamentally, at the beginning of May, the Boris Johnson government announced that it wanted to tear up the Human Rights Act 1998 – which incorporates the European convention on human rights into British law.
The government says the Act will be replaced by a Bill of Rights, which is expected to be much weaker in its defence of human rights.
Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s chief executive, responded: ‘Tearing up the Human Rights Act will unleash a Pandora’s box of dire consequences for the UK and we desperately urge the prime minister to reconsider.’
More than 50 organisations signed a letter protesting against the destruction of the Human Rights Act. They included Amnesty, Liberty, the British Institute of Human Rights, Stonewall, Friends of the Earth, the End Violence Against Women Coalition and Freedom from Torture.
So far, though, a lot of people have benefited from Ziegler.
Henrietta says: ‘Oh, it’s fantastic, I’m just really, really glad. I almost don’t dare find out: will that keep going? Or: how does it work? But I imagine it will keep going. I hope it will keep going.’
Jo says: ‘I’m really glad that we said to the lawyers, “Okay”, without really understanding the full significance of it. Well, I didn’t, anyway, maybe the others did. I’m particularly pleased that it might be a little bit of a counter to the new Policing Act, which we didn’t foresee at the time, obviously.’
Then Jo expresses some concern, which is partly related to one of the aspects of the Ziegler decision.
DJ Hamilton said that it was significant that the Ziegler Four action ‘was carefully targeted and aimed only at obstructing vehicles headed to the DSEI arms fair’.
The supreme court said that a relevant factor in assessing the proportionality of an obstructive protest was ‘whether the obstruction was targeted at the object of the protest’ (or whether it was blocking another legal activity which had no direct connection with the focus of the protest).
In the trial, Chris had pointed out that they blocked the road to DSEI, not Stratford High St (just outside the courtroom).
Jo says about the Ziegler decision: ‘There’s a little bit of me that is, like: “Well, it’s gonna work for people like me.” We have the headspace and privilege to plan an action, and say that we’re doing it from a faith base, and say that we’re pacifist, and that we’re directing our energy to a specific target.
‘If you take Black Lives Matter, for example, maybe it’s being used in those judgments, but I doubt it, because there’s not a specific target. It’s people’s actual lives who are on those protests. They’re protesting about a whole range of ways in which racism manifests itself in this country, in different systems and their own personal experience. And I don’t know that [Ziegler] could be used in those situations, because there’s not necessarily a specific target, and I think that’s unfortunate.’
Jo says of Ziegler: ‘So, I hope it’s not a disservice to different kinds of protests, you know.’
Nina says: ‘To have this and for it to be used is just a bit of hope.’
When she first heard about the supreme court ruling Henrietta was thrilled: ‘At that moment, obviously, it’s really exciting – but then I had to just explain to so many people what I was excited about and what it was.’
Jo says she doesn’t really remember the ruling coming out: ‘I was probably dealing with some sort of crisis in our house, because I live with people who are dealing with the home office, which is destroying their lives.
Chris was ‘elated’: ‘I was driving home and my phone went and it was Raj saying: “Just give me a call when you get this”, so I called him straight back and he said: “I can’t believe it, but we won!” So, he was just delighted, they really saw it as a victory, they were absolutely delighted. It wasn’t just a mundane victory for them, they really saw it as a piece of progress. The thing was that we were told that, the night before, so we got advance notice that it would be released at 10 o’clock the next day, and we couldn’t tell anyone.’
Chris and his wife Virginia volunteered to do the press work for the group at 10am: ‘We had booked to see some houses down in Shaftesbury, so we did the press work on a mobile; we used a mobile phone as a kind of Wi-Fi hub thing, to send the press releases from the service station on the M3. So, that was fun! Not like the old days!’
When I ask Chris about the impact of the Ziegler decision on other activists (the acquittals and abandoned prosecutions), he says: ‘It’s great that people don’t have to go through all the court case crap. Most people don’t see all that crap and all the post-conviction stuff, you know, fines and prison. Prison is hard, it really has an impact on people. So it’s wonderful that people can go out on the streets and protest and challenge injustice and then not have to put up with a load of crap for doing that. Unfortunately, it’s not very many. Far more people have to put up with the crap anyway but, you know, I suppose there’s a few people that have benefited from Ziegler and that’s great.’
When he says ‘prison is hard’, Chris knows more than most about that, because he’s been in prison five times – once for a six-month stretch. He says: ‘I’ve talked to one or two people who have been to prison and it’s, like, unspoken, really, to talk about how it’s damaged you, we don’t really talk about it openly. But, yeah, in my own case, I kind of think it has had a lasting impact in terms of trust and suspicion and anxiety. I mean, it isn’t easy to pull one particular thing out of your life and say “That’s the cause of it”, but when I look back, yeah, it had an impact on my mental health, much more than I realised at the time.’
Chris says he is talking about the effect on him of all five sentences, not just the longest one: ‘I would perhaps say the six months for the Ploughshares action wasn’t the hardest, by any means: others have been harder.’
Chris is talking about the ‘BAe Ploughshares’ action he carried out on 6 January 1993, when he cut his way into a British Aerospace arms factory in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, and hammered on nosecones for Hawk fighter jets and other military equipment. He was charged with £475,000-worth of criminal damage.
Chris’s first trial in Luton in October 1993 ended in a hung jury. At least three jurors were convinced by his argument that he was using reasonable force to prevent crimes including in the Indonesian occupation of East Timor (where the Hawks were being exported to).
At his second trial in Bedford, four days later, Chris achieved an amazing half-victory. The prosecution split the charge of criminal damage into two categories. One was the nose cone-type damage, involving weapons that could be used in East Timor and so on. The other category included damage caused to the fence as Chris cut into the compound, and damage to an emergency door – Chris had had to break the glass in order to get into the factory.
The jury split the verdict, as suggested. So Chris’s half-victory was that he convinced a jury to find him ‘not guilty’ of some of the damage he had carried out as part of an anti-arms trade/anti-military production protest.
The problem was that the verdict of the jury didn’t make any sense. The lead juror read out the verdict, saying that they found Chris ‘not guilty’ of the damage to the fence and the door and so on, but they found him ‘guilty’ of criminal damage to the Hawk and missile nosecones, and the radome mould, and so on.
I was sitting in the court in Bedford when this happened, and I saw at least one juror shaking their head desperately, trying to say ‘No’ to what the lead juror was telling the judge.
I, and other people who were in court that day, believe that Chris had actually persuaded the jury to find him ‘not guilty’ of most of the damage that he was charged with.
Despite this, the judge quickly sentenced Chris to six months in prison. Because he had already served six months in prison, waiting for the trial, Chris was released and walked free from the court.
In the first British Ploughshares trial, Stephen Hancock and Mike Hutchinson were convicted of criminal damage (for hammering on a US F-111 nuclear-capable warplane on 21 March 1990).
Chris carried out the second British Ploughshares action in January 1993 and achieved a hung jury and then a ‘half-not-guilty’ verdict.
At the third British Ploughshares trial, Lotta Kronlid, Andrea Needham, Jo Wilson and Angie Zelter were acquitted of criminal damage at Warton, a different British Aerospace site. They had hammered on a Hawk jet about to be exported to East Timor. (See Andrea’s book, The Hammer Blow: How 10 Women Disarmed a War Plane, published by Peace News.)
Funnily enough, despite the fact that they had such different verdicts, all seven of the British Ploughshares activists just mentioned spent about six months in prison, waiting for their trials. (As did the Jubilee Ploughshares two, mentioned earlier.)
There have been over 100 Plowshares/Ploughshares disarmament actions around the world since 1980, where people have used handheld tools to symbolically begin ‘beating swords into ploughshares’.
I ask Chris what he thinks about the fact that he spent years preparing for the BAe Ploughshares action – he says at least 18 months full-time, and years longer in a less intense way – and not very long preparing for his DSEI 2017 action.
Chris says that he ‘probably prepared for about six days’ for the Ziegler action... and bursts out laughing.
I ask Chris what he thinks about the fact that he spent years preparing for his Ploughshares action, believing that he might spend years in prison as a result, and it hasn’t had anything like the impact of his DSEI 2017 lock-on, which lasted six minutes before he was arrested, and another 90 minutes until he was cut out.
Out of the two actions, Chris says: ‘It would be hard for me to say what I’m most proud of. I would be equally proud of those two things even though there was, I suppose, more risk’ with the BAe Ploughshares action.
Another big difference between the two was that the Ploughshares action ‘was just focused on one person whereas this was the four of us together, and that was nice and that is to be commended’.
I ask Nora what her reaction was when she first heard the supreme court’s ruling. She says: ‘Raj called me and told me – and I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone. I remember saying I was full of doubts. I think I said to Raj, I’ve just been really worried: what if this case and this judgement is what brought about this policing bill? And he just said, oh, he doesn’t think so, and actually he thinks this is going to be really positive for the right to protest.’
Nora was worried about the possibility that there might be ‘unknown consequences’: ‘And what if one of them is that the government decides to crack down more on protest, which will affect other people more than it will affect me – that will affect people of colour, poor people, transgender people?’
Nora says: ‘I felt, like: what did we win? The right to lie in the road? We didn’t stop the arms trade from happening, you know. If privileged activists have gained the right to lie on the road, but other activists then bear more police violence and more persecution because of it, then, overall, that’s not a victory. I simultaneously felt happy and also thought: “Oh, shit, I hope this doesn’t have bad consequences for someone else.”
Nora goes on: ‘And now, since then, I feel more positive about it again because, you know, a lot of people have gotten in touch with me to say that they were acquitted because of our judgement, and that’s really good to hear. And, you know, the idea that these policing bills were brought about because of things like this, it’s silly, because, yes, of course, that’s what happens when you protest, the government responds by banning protest. You find a way of still doing it, and so it continues and continues, and so we have to find whatever ways we can to still organise and resist.’
Nora says: ‘It’s a contingent victory, in the sense that we’ve created an opening for a while, a space in the law that activists can use. And that space will close at some point, and it won’t always work. We need victories sometimes, even if they’re relative and short-lived. Social change is an ongoing fight and, occasionally, we have victories, and they sustain us, and they strengthen us, and they allow us to take a few steps forward, but then we also often take a few steps back as well.
‘I said before that while all this was happening, I was more concerned with what was going on at the Catholic Worker. If you want to truly be part of and help build a community and movement that includes and supports the weakest and the most marginalised, then you won’t be winning a lot of the time. It’s a lot of defeat.
‘I guess what I’m saying is those kind of victories are part of the of the struggle. But just as importantly so are all the times we spend not winning, just continuing, just being, being alongside, or just fighting, losing battles, basically. Because, not to fight them would be to leave a lot of people behind.’
I ask Raj how Ziegler fits with his work, his life, his career. How does it fit in with what he’s done?
Raj replies, simply: ‘It’s made me hugely more busy.’ And he laughs.
Raj goes on: ‘I’m incredibly proud of it in a way, and proud of, not so much the judgement, but actually of the four defendants. I think it’s amazing. They took a stand against a disgraceful arms fair. And they’ve ended up in the supreme court, and they’ve made legal history. And they’ve created an entirely new movement for activists in the legal field. And often that’s not really the lawyers, because we can just write something. But it’s the defendants that have to put up with us and, you know, great credit to them for persevering throughout it all, and for undertaking the action, and then keeping fighting, because it is a bit of a drain at times.’
When I was interviewing Nora, I left one question right to the end. I said: ‘This case is called Ziegler... how do you feel about that?’
Nora said: ‘Well, it’s unfortunate. In Germany, “Ziegler” is a fairly common name, but here it’s really not common at all, which means that it’s very easy to google me.’
‘Ziegler’ means ‘brick-maker’ or ‘bricklayer’ in German. Ziegel originally meant ‘roof tile’, then came to mean ‘brick’, I’m told.
I’ve discovered that there are about 65,000 people called Ziegler in Germany. It’s not as common as ‘Smith’ is over here, which is the surname of one in every 84 people in the UK. ‘Müller’ is the most common name in Germany, and it is the surname of one in every 85 people in Germany, almost exactly the same proportion of the population.
Ziegler is apparently the name of one in every 1,200 Germans. It ranks as the 88th most common surname in Germany, about the level of ‘Matthews’ or ‘Reid’ in the UK, according to one source.
So the equivalent of our having Ziegler would be if an activist called Nora Reid went to Germany and had a major legal precedent named after her. (There are said to be less than 400 people called ‘Reid’ in Germany right now.)
Well-known Zieglers in Germany right now include: Christian Ziegler, the photojournalist and former BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year; politician Dagmar Ziegler, a Social Democrat who stepped down from parliament recently; mathematician Günter Matthias Ziegler; Marc Ziegler, the former professional footballer (goalkeeper); and Thomas Ziegler, the former professional cyclist.
In the Matrix Chambers webinar, Raj said that district judge Hamilton calls the Ziegler decision ‘the Hamilton judgment’.
I ask Nora what she thinks of that. She says: ‘I mean, Ziegler just sounds better.’