Drones campaigners claim victory

IssueDecember 2015 - January 2016
News by Chris Cole

Campaigners claimed complete victory over drone engine manufacturer UAV Engines at the end of October, when the company withdrew its application to the high court in London to continue an injunction taken out against protesters. Worse was to follow for the Israeli-owned company as justice Charles Purle agreed with campaigners that the injunction should never have been granted in the first place and the high court set the order aside ab initio (‘from the beginning’).

Purle stated: ‘What I was not told [when granting the injunction on June 30 2015] and clearly should have been was that there had been a long series of peaceful protests in the vicinity of the claimants’ premises going back many years, and there had been a further mass demonstration in October 2014....

‘It may have been that some limited injunction might have been appropriate. However the fact is that those under ex parte relief are under a strict duty of disclosure.... Something therefore went wrong in the obtaining of that order. It seems to me that the appropriate course is to discharge the order ab initio.... Accordingly the injunction I granted on 30 June is dismissed ab initio and it is as if the injunction never existed.”

“Something went wrong in the obtaining of that order. The injunction is dismissed and it is as if the injunction never existed.”

UAV Engines Ltd is a subsidiary of Elbit Systems, one of Israel’s largest arms companies and a producer of drones and other military technology used in Israeli military assaults on Gaza. Drone engines produced at the Shenstone factory near Birmingham are exported to Israel.

Protests and vigils have been held by anti-drone and Palestine solidarity campaigners at the site since 2009. The injunction – granted in an ex parte hearing on 30 June 2015, days before a large national protest dubbed ‘Block the Factory’ took place on 6 July – forbade nine named defendants and any protester from going within 250 metres of the company’s Shenstone site. The first campaigners knew about the injunction was when they turned up at the demonstration on 6 July.

At a subsequent hearing, the high court partially amended the injunction, lifting the 250-metre exclusion zone. Campaigners successfully argued that the order was draconian and prevented them from exercising their right to free speech and to peaceful and lawful protest at a factory manufacturing weapons used in human rights abuses abroad. The injunction itself however remained in place, forbidding protesters from trespassing on UAV Engines property or from harassing the company.

In subsequent statements and legal arguments, campaigners – and lawyers acting pro bono for one of the named defendants, Maya Evans of VCNV UK – argued that UAV Engines had in effect misled the court when it applied for the injunction by not revealing the long history of peaceful protests at the factory going back to 2009. Instead the company had told a partial story focusing on one protest in which campaigners had occupied the roof of the factory and a mysterious air-gun incident in which a pellet had reportedly been fired at the building.

Months of legal preparation and gathering of statements by campaigners and activists took place ahead of the hearing on 27 October. Minutes before the hearing we learned that the company wanted to withdraw the claim. That was not enough for campaigners, however, as we argued in court that the injunction should never have been granted in the first place and should be set aside. After some brief exchanges in court, judge Purle agreed.