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Arms trade injunctions

Campaigners battle for legal right to protest

As Peace News went to press, a High Court hearing into the injunctions demanded by Brighton arms manufacturers to restrict anti-war protests was still continuing. Richard Purssell reports... The injunction is being sought by EDO/MBM Technologies Ltd, subsidiary of the giant US arms manufacturer EDO Corp, under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
It seeks to create an exclusion zone, which would restrict all protest activities around the claimant's factory to two-and-a-half hours a week and demand that there are fewer than ten protesters and that they make no amplified noise.
    The injunction follows a year long campaign against EDO/MBM in which a wide variety of groups ranging from anti-capitalists to the Quakers have engaged in vigils, noise protests, roof-top occupations and other forms of nonviolent direct action. EDO/MBM are insistent that this amounts to a campaign of “harassment and intimidation”. In fact, the scale of the weekly protests has increased tenfold since news of the injunction reached the wider Sussex peace movement. Last Wednesday saw fifty activists hold a noise demo outside the factory.
    The solicitors bringing the action on behalf of EDO are Lawson-Cruttenden who boast - “We are the market leader in obtaining ground breaking injunctions on behalf of individuals and corporations who have been the subject of harassment by direct action protests groups.” Lawson-Cruttenden has succeeded in gaining nineteen such “interim” (which in effect means indefinite) injunctions against animal rights and anti-GM groups.

A tool for harassment

The crucial difference between injunctions under the PHA (which was originally introduced as an anti-stalking law) and civil injunctions is that breaches of the injunction can lead to arrest and prosecution under the criminal law. The penalty can be up to five years' imprisonment. One animal rights activist with experience of the legal battles against such injunctions told Peace News: “The reason the corporations and police are so keen on these injunctions is that an `interim injunction' with the full force of the law behind it can be granted at an early stage by the court, requiring a very low standard of proof. The police then use the injunctions as a tool for arrest, search and general harassment.”

Warmongers

EDO/MBM Technologies manufacture a variety of military equipment at their Brighton factory, including bomb release mechanisms, and are a major supplier for Raytheon's Paveway weapons system, supplied to 33 different air forces world wide and used extensively during the “Shock and Awe” bombing campaign in Iraq.
    Previous attempts by EDO/MBM to silence the campaign include threatening UK Indymedia with a libel suit for referring to them as “warmongers”. This was rapidly withdrawn a day after the verdict in the McLibel case in Europe concluded that activists should have access to legal aid to fight libel actions (see PN 2459).

A clear threat?

Much of the evidence collated by Lawson-Cruttenden to demonstrate a campaign of harassment and intimidation seems tenuous at best. One whole ring-binder of the evidence presented before the court consists almost entirely of downloaded pages from animal rights websites. He also suggested that a quote from one activist on Indymedia - “we must be willing to pay the highest prices and go all the way to stop death and destruction of innocent lives” amounted to a “clear threat”.
    Ceri Gibbons, one of the defendants, said “This injunction seeks to criminalise everyone who peacefully protests outside the factory and would have no impact on activities which are already illegal.”
    At the hearing on 22 April, the court was convulsed with laughter when Lawson-Cruttenden said, in reference to a legal workshop held by SMASH EDO and the Quakers last year, “I wonder why a lawful protest group needs to be clued up about the law.”

Struggle continues

Campaigners remain adamant that they will continue to fight and defy the injunction. Lorna Marcham, one of the defendants, told Peace News: “This injunction, coupled with a smear campaign, is a clear attempt to restrict our right to freedom of speech and assembly. Surely the irony of a bomb-maker complaining about noise, harassment and damage to buildings cannot be lost on anyone.”
    The case was continuing on 25 April and a judgement on the interim injunction was expected later that week.

Topics: Trials | Arms trade