Vine and Fig Tree Planters given suspended sentence

IssueMarch 2006
News by Stephen Hancock

On 7 February, eight of us appeared at Newbury Magistrates' Court for planting vines and fig trees inside the Atomic Weapons Establishment Aldermaston last August (see PN2465).

Throughout our action we've tried to challenge both nuclear weapons and traditional protest practices and mindsets (see PN2467). One of the workshops we did during our trial preparation was entitled “Treating court as a gig”. At the time I felt it was a bit of a leftfield approach, but it proved vital. We looked at ways in which we could support one another - including the prosecution, magistrate and police - in giving and receiving our best performances.

Broadening the context

We were actually given a junior district judge, who, like the prosecutor, had accessed a wealth of legal information on the Trident Ploughshares website. The prosecutor argued that the only issue was whether or not we had cut the perimeter fence. We tried to broaden the context. Our defences were various and varied: legal, moral, Christian, zany, historical, poetic, academic, mystical, emotional, artistic, prophetic, personal, and even holographic.

There were eight defendants, twelve supporters, one judge, one clerk, one prosecutor, and one police officer. The pro-nuclear people were obviously in a minority, and we tried to be suitably respectful. Indeed, it was the prosecutor who turned into the protester - protesting about our protest-free actions. I think we all enjoyed the topsy-turvy nature of the proceedings.

Personally, I felt that I looked at nuclear weapons more clearly than I have done for years. Trying to understand their madness, and destructiveness, and continued presence. And exploring sane, nonviolent, pro-active responses.

On the last day of our trial, we were happy to bump into, and cross-fertilise with, a bunch of Block the Builders up for plea hearings. The judge was out for 45 minutes and returned with a guilty verdict. We were each given a four-week prison sentence, suspended for six months and ordered to pay #201 each in compensation for the fence, which we do not intend to pay.