Pit Stop Ploughshares judge orders retrial

IssueApril 2005
News by Stephen Hancock

After a week of presiding over the trial of the Pit Stop Ploughshares in Dublin's Four Courts, Judge Frank O'Donnell dismissed the jury after admitting that that his actions could be perceived to be biased. He ordered a retrial for October.

On 3 February 2003, the Pit Stop Ploughshares Five disarmed a US Navy C40 plane in a hangar at Shannon Airport, County Clare, Ireland (see PN2458).

Two years later, on Monday 7 March, they finally went to trial. One hundred and fifty supporters gathered for a silent vigil outside Dublin's main post office.

The defence case began on 10 March with Ciaron O'Reilly taking the stand. The five activists wanted to argue that, as allowed under Ireland's Criminal Damage Act, they had “acted to preserve the life and property of another”.

The prosecution countered that the action was not a serious attempt to intervene to preserve life and property but a publicity stunt by egotists for a broader anti-war agenda. However, the first five interventions in O'Reilly's testimony were made by the judge not the prosecutor, and when the prosecutor finally made an objection the judge responded, “I've been waiting for you.”

When O'Reilly's testimony finished, the defence called retired RAF Commander Oxley, OBE as an expert on logistics. The judge disallowed Oxley's testimony without hearing it and then ruled out the defendants' legal defence without hearing any further submissions. He also accused O'Reilly's four co-defendants, who had not yet testified, of trying to introduce an anti-war agenda into his court.

The defence counsel moved for a mistrial and a day was spent in legal arguments. Finally, on Monday 14 March the judge ruled a mistrial on the basis that his actions could be perceived by a reasonable observer to be biased.

At the end of the trial the defendants issued a statement saying, “We have been sustained by the solidarity of others and inspired by the continued nonviolent resistance to this war.”

The retrial is scheduled to take place on 25 October 2005.