On Friday 30 September, District Judge Peter Ward returned a verdict of guilty to the charges of Aggravated Trespass brought against six campaigners who had held a peaceful protest at Lancaster University more than a year before (see PN2462).
Dismissing the prosecution's and the University's claims that the six had intimidated University staff and conference delegates, Judge Ward nonetheless found them guilty because they had momentarily disrupted the conference. He also claimed that in doing so, the protesters had denied those present at the conference, such as BAE Systems, Shell, and Lord Sainsbury, their freedom of speech.
Loud and clear
“This is nothing short of ludicrous,” said one of the six. “One of the many criticisms levelled at these companies is that they have too much influence when it comes to government policies on a whole range of controversial issues. Their concerns are heard loud and clear by those who have the power in this country ... it is the people fighting for a saner, more compassionate society who are habitually ignored.”
The human rights organisation Liberty say they are “very concerned at this result. The right to peaceful protest is fundamental to our democracy, as is freedom of speech. Both have been under attack recently, not least at the New Labour Convention, and we fear verdicts such as this will only hasten their demise.”
A “moral victory”
The six intend to appeal against their convictions, adding, “we are disappointed with this result, but we still believe that the moral victory is ours. If what we did was illegal, then people need to ask some serious questions about the state of our legal system. Apparently selling arms to countries like Indonesia is fine, but waving a banner at the people who do it, isn't.”