Flurry of legal victories for anti arms trade campaigners

IssueMarch 2006
Feature by Andrew Beckett

Campaigners against Brighton arms dealers EDO MBM gained two major court victories during February. Firstly in the magistrates' court - as a trial charging three activists with “illegal assembly” collapsed - and secondly in the High Court - as the injunction which created an exclusion zone outside the factory crumbled.

EDO MBM, who manufacture parts for the Paveway bomb system, the most-used guided munition in the air assault on Iraq, and unmanned combat air vehicles, much loved by the US and Israeli militaries for targeted assassinations, are now ducking for cover as the legal bombshells go off in their own faces.

No immunity!

The “illegal assembly” trial, which concerned three activists conducting a weapons inspection of the factory on the anniversary of the war last year, collapsed on 9 February, after the judge ordered that Public Immunity be withdrawn from police evidence. Rather than expose police “operational decisions” to public view, the prosecution dropped the charges, begging the question of what information about the decision to make arrests could be so “sensitive”.
    A spokesman for the campaign SMASH EDO told Peace News, “We have been the victims of high level collusion between the company and the police to silence our protests. They are aware of the damaging consequences of publicity around the issue of communication between the supposedly neutral police and the arms corporation.
    A number of trials brought by the police have now ended in acquittals, suggesting that arrests were made for the purpose of securing an exclusion zone in the High Court.”

A costly exercise

In March 2005, the arms dealers applied for an injunction under the Protection from Harassment Act which would have limited the regular pickets of the factory to ten silent protesters on a Thursday afternoon. Although the judge refused to limit numbers, it confined protesters to a narrow verge opposite the factory and prevented them from filming. This was vigorously enforced by a combination of private security and heavy policing.
    More than thirty arrests have been made at the factory since court proceedings began last March and two protesters were remanded to HMP Lewes for alleged breaches of the injunction.
    The defendants mounted a vigorous defence, which ended in almost total victory this week as the injunction now only applies to two named defendants and with EDO having to pay around #200,000 in legal costs. Those defendants are fighting on to expose EDO's machinations in court.
    On 14 February there was a “Naming the dead” demonstration, where the names of some of those killed in air strikes in Iraq were read out to employees at the end of their shift.