Diary: 'In court, we wait'

IssueJune - July 2019
Comment by Julia Mercer

23 April. Trial day dawns in Reading. I’m hoping I’ll be convincing and not go blank. I’m nervous, wishing it was over and suddenly doubting the usefulness of the whole project.

In times of doubt like this, the solidarity of friends and fellow-activists is so necessary.

In court, we wait. Nothing happens.

When I think back to the morning of the action, what I remember most vividly is panic and a huge desire to get it right, to be part of an effective shutdown of that hideous place, the Atomic Weapons Establishment Burghfield.

Before dawn and very dark on a cold morning in late October, my friend Awel and I were huddled in the front seats of her old Ford Fiesta. We heard the growl of traffic on the M4 and the beating of our hearts, loud with apprehension. Two or three minutes away was our destination, the north end of the approach to AWE Burghfield.

‘Should we go?’

‘Wait – let’s say a quick prayer.’

Both of us being of a Christian persuasion, that seemed entirely right: my prayer in English, Awel’s in Welsh. With spirits steadied, we covered the last kilometre, nearly overshooting in the dark.

Great! Nobody about. We were able to jiggle the car backwards and forwards into the best road-blocking position. Then I was back into panic mode, every second expecting police to erupt onto the road – I’d made us faff about positioning the car instead of getting our arms properly locked on.

Tension and a weird inadequate feeling coursed through me; but Awel was calm. Still the police didn’t come, and I found myself remembering our practising. And then we were there: arms fastened through the car in this most impregnable tube, bums on the road, more or less comfortable.

Of course, the police did arrive eventually. They turned up with a resigned politeness and a dedication to correct procedure – and a welcome bit of friendliness as one copper chatted to Awel in Welsh.

Dawn broke with a cloudless sky. We learned from our support people that the other blockading points were firmly in place. I had a feeling of joyful disbelief: we’d been so short of people that the action was very nearly called off – but we’d done it! Trident Ploughshares had closed AWE Burghfield to all traffic, and it only took nine blockaders and a handful of vital support people.

After the drama of creating the blockade, the day rolled on in a predictable way. This was the third time I’d been in a lock-on with arm tubes and been cut out. Each time, my assertiveness skills have become better: speaking to the police in a polite but firm way becomes easier.

Too much to hope for, that we’d be let off. After long hours of police cell tedium, we were all charged with wilful obstruction of the highway and turned out into the night – where kind souls with a minibus were waiting for us.

And so to court in Reading, the following month, to lodge a plea of not guilty. Halfway there, Awel (already at the courthouse) phoned to say the hearing had been cancelled! We all showed up at court again in the new year and were duly processed. Trial to be immediately after Easter.

We’ve had a lot of help from Bindmans, the solicitors, and we have a barrister who will defend the four of us who have qualified for legal aid. I’m defending myself and have cobbled together a defence statement based on preventing a war crime, plus my human right to follow my conscience and religion.

So after a lot of waiting on 23 April, it turns out that the barrister for the defence has not appeared, owing to an administrative error over dates. The public space at the back of the court is full of our supporters, which gladdens my heart. We have a judge who seems sympathetic, but we no longer have enough time, even though the barrister arrives at the court by lunchtime.

The court cannot provide an extra day; the group heart sinks. Surely we won’t be told to come back again, a fourth time for some? Things get complicated when the crown prosecutor adds a charge of aggravated trespass against four of us; the defence objects.

And that’s how things are left. In July, we will all be back in court yet again, at High Wycombe this time. And when it’s over, regardless of outcome, we will have a great big party!

Topics: Radical lives
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