Just doing our jobs

IssueDecember 2005 - January 2006
Comment by David MacKenzie

On 5 December, ten anti-Trident activists were each fined a total of £300 by a Scottish Sheriff who takes a dim view of people not doing exactly what the police tell them on every occasion. The activists were in bother for being the crew of a large model nuclear weapons submarine which blocked the street outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh on 10 March.

The ten were accused under the Roads (Scotland) Act with placing an obstruction in the roadway without reasonable excuse and also of obstructing police officers who attempted to remove it. They made individual legal submissions but put forward a common defence. They argued that the reason for their action (the urgent need to bring the reality of the threat from an illegal nuclear weapon system to the Scottish Parliament) and the care and consideration with which they had acted, added up to a reasonable excuse.

Sheriff McPartlin rejected their defences to both charges, fining them £50 on the first and £250 on the second, claiming that the matter became more serious at the point when they refused to comply with police requirements to move. The ten told the Sheriff that they would not pay the fines.

Thinking outside the box

Beyond the bones of the case there was much more. At least two of the police officers giving Crown evidence were obviously and genuinely made to think outside the conventional “that is not my remit” box and there was evidence that another had danced a highland fling at the protest. The defence statements from the witness stand and in summing up were rich, memorable and inspiring. Let a few quotes from Sarah Whiteside suffice:

“For any of us to say that we are just doing our jobs - as police officers, or as lawyers, or in any field - is not a reasonable excuse under international law. We are lucky to live in a democratic state where a moral choice is indeed possible. To maintain a nuclear arsenal is to prepare for a war of aggression, a war that would inevitably involve, to quote from the principles, `wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity' and `murder [of the] civilian population'. We can all choose actively and visibly to oppose crimes against peace and humanity as set out in the Nuremberg principles.”

”Mr Stewart (the Procurator Fiscal) has tried to persuade you that allowing effective protest is allowing what he calls `anarchy'. If, by `anarchy' he means well-informed citizens acting safely and peacefully against the cynical and highly dangerous flouting of international laws by our elected government then we could perhaps agree that anarchy is no bad thing.”

Responding to the Crown accusation that the protest was frivolous since the sailors had consumed Scottish Parliament shortbread and obviously had a good time, she said:

“It seems to me that the actions undertaken by members of Trident Ploughshares exemplify a world in which I, for one, would like to live. The organisation dares to celebrate and hope despite detailed knowledge of the immediate dangers that we all face from nuclear weapons, and there is nothing frivolous about that.”

The ten protesters were: Sarah Whiteside (from Fife); Emma Bateman (Leicester); Brian Quail (Glasgow); Adam Conway (Southampton); Jane Smith (Grantown-on-Spey); Jane Tallents (Helensburgh): Angie Zelter (Norfolk); Rosie Kane (Glasgow); Peter Lux (Norwich); Janet Fenton (Edinburgh).

See more of: David Mackenzie's diary