First military SOCPA trial due to go ahead

IssueJuly to August 2006
News by Martha Ransdell

On 1 April 2006, two peace campaigners from Yorkshire were arrested under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA). They face up to a year in prison, or a maximum #5,000 fine, after protesting against the law, sections of which criminalise trespass and remove the automatic right to peaceful demonstrations.

The two women, Helen John, 68, and Sylvia Boyes, 62, were arrested after walking 15 feet past the patrol line at Menwith Hill, a US military spy base in North Yorkshire.

Limiting protest

The additions to SOCPA - which originally received Royal Assent in April 2005 - came into force, via yet another Terrorism Act, in April 2006, and extend SOCPA's criminal trespass offence to military and nuclear bases across Britain.

The legislation, pushed by former Home Secretary Charles Clarke, has caused outrage among campaigners, who say the law is an attempt to limit legitimate protest under the pretence of fighting the war on terror (see PNs over the past 12 months).

Determined and defiant

Speaking to PN recently about their case, Helen John said, “We Thought this was a really important issue and we just had to challenge it.” She added, “The SOCPA criminal trespass law does not protect the people of Britain against terrorism--it is exclusively designed to protect the US military fighting capability in the UK.”

Boyes said she knew the consequences of her actions, but that she was willing to be charged and go to prison: “The government thinks it can do whatever it wants, that it has a passive public which accepts whatever it throws at it,” she said. “I find it very worrying.”

After months of shilly-shallying by the police and Crown Prosecution Service, both women have now been charged under SOCPA. Both women's next court appearance will be on 6 July when they expect to be given their trial date.

Topics: Civil liberties