'Blood on your hands!' Gaza protest at Downing Street - Court Report

Blog by Chris Cole , Virginia Moffatt
Chris and Virginia with supporters outside the Court

On 25 April our trial for Criminal Damage took place following our arrest on 29 December at Downing Street to protest the UK government’s complicity in the genocide in Gaza. We had poured red poster paint on the gates, and made bloody handprints, held placards and read the names of children killed by Israel and Hamas.

The evening before our trial we held a gathering at the wonderful London Catholic Worker  where we spoke about our action, the situation in Gaza and the ongoing clampdown on political protest. Kirsten from CAAT spoke about UK arms sales to Israel and how to engage in challenging them and Mil from Peace News spoke about the political situation focusing on propaganda about the war promulgated by the mainstream media. We had a really good evening of sharing and discussion about the situation.

At our trial the next day, from the witness box Virginia spoke about how she felt a duty to act as our government refused to even call for a ceasefire and continued to supply Israel with arms.  She spoke about how she had written to Ministers and MPs about the situation and participated in many large scale demonstrations and marches but those had been ignored. She said when our government was in breach of international law and supporting a genocide, she felt it was a civic duty to act. She also acted as a Christian, inspired by Dr Rev Munther Isaac the pastor of the Christmas Evangelical Lutheran Church whose sermon ‘Christ under the rubble’ called on Western Christians to act for Gaza. When questioned by the prosecution she pointed out that throwing paint was minimal and not violent, particularly when considering the blood spilled all over Gaza.

Chris spoke of his visit to Palestine with Pax Christi where he met people suffering under the occupation and saw the injustices they faced first hand and met Israeli and Palestinian groups working for peace. Chris also argued that he felt compelled to act as the government was ignoring widespread evidence of violation of international humanitarian law by Israel.   Subsequent to our action, we learned that the Foreign Secretary, Lord Cameron had coincidentally undertook a review of arms sales to Israel on 29 December – the day of our action – and decided to continuing the supply. He noted that since our action the ICJ had agreed South Africa had a plausible case of genocide against Israel.

We argued that our protest was in two parts, both equally important. The spreading of red paint and marking bloody hand prints to provide a visual symbol of the blood on the government’s hands and to act as a warning to the government not to breach international law. The second part, reading the names of dead children killed by Hamas and Israel, was to  make visible the human suffering at the heart of this conflict.

Chris and Virginia with supporters, outside the Court
Photo: Milan Rai

As well as our moral arguments we mounted a legal defence of our action in the light of the Appeal Court Judgement, arising from the reference of the Attorney General following the Colston Statue case.  The Appeal Court ruled that European Convention Rights (Article 9, 10 and 11) enshrined in the UK Human Rights Act of 1998, could amount to lawful excuse for ‘minor or temporary’ damage in certain circumstances, that is that convention rights were engaged (i.e. it was a protest situation); that there was no violence at the protest; that damage occurred to public and not private property, and that the damage was not significant but ‘minor or temporary’.

The court had heard evidence that it was a protest, that there was no violence, that the property was public (“held in trust on behalf of the nation” said the statement from Downing Street Security Manager) and that the amount of damage was £139.68.   We  maintained therefore that we should be found not guilty of criminal damage.

The Judge, however, disagreed, arguing – contrary to the Appeal Court judgement – that the fact that the property was public was an aggravating factor not a mitigating one – and that in her opinion £139.68 “was not an insignificant sum.” She also noted (with no evidence!) that the 1.5 hours clean up prevented people from enjoying Downing Street.

In all Virginia and Chris were given fines, costs and compensation totally £1,683.68 which (to echo the Judge!) is a far from insignificant sum.

We have already been contacted by those wishing to help us bear the cost of this.  If you are able and would like to help, you can pop a donation into the Fig Tree account (Co-op Bank, Sort Code 08-92-99, Account number 65395828).  Any funds not used will go towards Medical Aid for Palestine.

During our trial we also remembered and honoured our friend Fr David Standley whose funeral was taking place that day.

Thanks everyone for their best wishes!  Onwards! #Ceasfire Now.