Putting EDO on trial

IssueOctober 2010
Feature by Bob Nicholls

On 30 June and 2 July, the seven remaining defendants in the EDO Decommissioners’ case were found not guilty of conspiracy to cause criminal damage despite their admission that they had damaged £180,000 worth of property on 16 January 2009 in a plant producing weapons for Israel. On 30 June, a unanimous jury acquitted five of the activists, and on 2 July the judge cleared the remaining two defendants of wrongdoing. The court found that the activists broke in with “lawful excuse,” as the destruction was aimed to prevent the factory from producing weapons used by Israel in Gaza.

Our main legal defence was lawful excuse, within the Criminal Damage Act, section 5. Part of that is that you’ve got to have a genuinely-held belief, so we had to be able to prove what we were thinking before we went in.

The pre-action videos that we filmed just before the action, and that went out on al-Jazeera that night, were crucial bits of evidence of our motivations. We made the videos to send a message out to people in Gaza to let them know that we were actually doing something.

Subsequently they became quite critical in the court case, and the jury wanted to refer to it again in their deliberations. It is the only thing they went back to, actually. We think the jury went through them one by one, for each of us.

At the beginning, we had three legal arguments we could use. Our legal defence team subsequently decided they wanted to really have it won with the Criminal Damage Act, and not have to go to the Criminal Law Act. The really twisted thing about it is that to defend yourself under the Criminal Damage Act, you have to be preventing damage to property, discounting human beings.

I’ve been told that that stems from the Fire of London, where people were demolishing timber houses to create fire breaks. So to protect those people who were working for the community, the authorities gave them legal authority. One important thing we had to prove was that there was escalation of the conflict at the time of the action, that there was no decline in the conflict itself.

Harvey mentioned in his pre-action video that this was when the UN compound got bombed with phosphorus, and when they destroyed all the humanitarian aid in the UN compound. That reinforced the idea that we were motivated on that day, Friday, to go in the next day.

Three people in Brighton were then arrested, and that’s why they charged us all with conspiracy, because if they’d just charged us with criminal damage they couldn’t have charged the Brighton people.

The trial began in May. There was a campaign supporting the court case, and a demonstration on the first day. Support during the court case was really good and key to the campaign. Always make sure you ask the right jury questions when they are getting selected. We managed to get in a question about whether the members of the jury worked for the police or the CPS [crown prosecution service].

In fact three of the jurors were serving police officers and one of them had been involved in prosecuting some of us previously. So they were excluded from the jury but they wouldn’t have been if we hadn’t put in that question.

The case opened with the prosecution showing photos of the damage and bringing on Mr Hills, the managing director of EDO. They tried to paint EDO as a civilian business making in-flight entertainments systems.

They took police photos out of the bundle of documents shown to the jury, photos of the dummy missile (the Joint Defence Attack Munition) that we had thrown out of the window of the factory during the action [see PN 2525] and other military components that were found in the factory.

It was quite stupid of them because obviously we had those photos and could show them to the jury, and what they had done looked quite dishonest to the jury. A lot of the time the jury were looking at us to see what we were like as people and it was going both ways. We were looking at them, trying to see “Is this person onside? Have they changed their mind?”

Overall they were quite deadpan. But at certain critical moments, one juror got very excited. He may have come along thinking he’s going to deal with a rape case, but this unfolding of intrigue and the transfer of illegal weapons. He was gobsmacked by it. He was clearly thinking: “Wow, I’m really glad to be here. This is something important.”

A couple of the others were slowly seeing things differently. In Brighton there is hostility around the EDO campaign so a juror may have gone with a negative impression of the campaign. That changed as the case went on. The unanimous decision proved that, really.

The strength of the case opened their eyes. Although we were panicking right at the end. There was one guy we called “the football supporter” because we weren’t sure if he was interested at all. When the jury were about to go out, he took out a coin and it looked as if he was just about to flick it, and make his decision on that basis….