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John Hyatt 1949-2011

Life-long activist and "guerilla anarchist" who helped expose plans for a paramilitary coup and stood trial for "incitement to disaffect" British troops in Northern Ireland.

John Hyatt, a member of the Peace News staff collective 1973-75 gave us the slogan “Don't Vote – it only encourages them”.

I first met him as a young man representing the Youth Section of the Peace Pledge Union at the WRI Council meeting in Vienna in August 1968.

Nearby Czechoslovakia was experiencing what turned out to be the last days of the Prague Spring. On the last day of the council meeting a WRI delegation, which I think included John, travelled to Bratislava at the invitation of the Slovak Peace Committee and had a remarkably open discussion with them. They warned us that, with Warsaw Pact military manoeuvres still taking place on Czechoslovakia’s borders, the danger of Soviet intervention had not passed.

Four days later, Soviet and other Warsaw Pact armies invaded. John travelled to Bratislava, and was there when the tanks rolled into the city. In a courageous act of solidarity, he joined the thousands of citizens who thronged the streets in protest and defiance.

John was involved in peace activities for the rest of his working life. As youth secretary of the PPU, he was able to pass on his considerable knowledge of pacifist writing to other young activists, producing a bibliography on Pacifism published by Housman’s in 1972, and founding the series of PPU publications “Studies in Nonviolence”.

In 1973, he returned from the Philadelphia Life Center / Movement for a New Society, to join Peace News. He was one of the PN journalists to receive the Granada TV What The Papers Say “Scoop of the Year” award for publishing plans for a strike-busting private army. Peregine Worsthorne, deputy editor of the Daily Telegraph was caused to shout “absolutely disgraceful” and walk out of the awards lunch when Diana Shelley announced that John was one of the 14 members of the British Withdrawal from Northern Ireland campaign. They were charged with “conspiracy to incite disaffection” for possessing the BWNIC leaflet explaining how British soldiers could refuse to serve in Northern Ireland – this charge carried a possible life sentence.

Fortunately, after an 11-week trial, the jury did not follow the judge’s advice but accepted the defendants' argument that their actions were justified and returned a verdict of Not Guilty. In addition, John – along with three others – was charged with “aiding and abetting” two AWOL British soldiers to go to Sweden to which he pleaded “guilty” and was fined.

John left Peace News after the BWNIC trial and worked at Housmans bookshop. During this period he served on the executive committee of WRI and, in 1980, became WRI secretary. He served in that role until nearly the end of 1984. Later, in 1987, he took over the administration of the Lansbury House Trust fund, set up to support the educational side of WRI’s work.

While John’s convictions were very much in the tradition of anarcho-pacifism, he was never narrowly sectarian. I remember that at a WRI study conference in 1980 in Prades in the south of France he became impatient with what he saw as the rigid ideological stance of some anarchist participants and said he preferred to define himself instead as a “guerrilla anarchist”. I took him to mean by this that, while holding on to basic anarchist principles, he wanted to be open and flexible on how they were interpreted in practice.