Tuesday, September 19, 2006
FAIRFORD DISARMERS - MISTRIAL CALLED
A judge at Bristol Crown Court has ordered a re-trial in the case of two peace activists charged with damaging military equipment to stop planes taking off. After a day and a half of debate, the jury failed to reach any clear verdict.Paul Milling and Margaret Jones are charged with conspiracy to commit criminal damage after disabling several dozen bomb carrying and fuel vehicles at RAF Fairford in March 2003. They were attempting to hinder take-off of 14 B-52 planes to bomb Iraq at the start of the 2003 invasion. Milling and Jones say this was a bid to delay the planes’ departure for Baghdad and give more people time to flee the city – thus protecting property and helping to prevent war crime.
In a prepared statement handed in when they were arrested at RAF Fairford after damaging two dozen vehicles, they wrote of the air base as ‘a launching pad for war crimes’, adding that if they could save ‘one life’ by their actions, they would consider them justified.
Bruce Houlder for the prosecution alleged the defendants ‘claimed a charter’ to act without reference to the law. If the defendants’ actions were taken to their logical conclusions, he told the jury at Bristol Crown Court, ‘one might as well tear up the laws of this country.’
This was ‘a unique case’ said Hugo Charlton, defending Margaret Jones. The law allowed for exceptional circumstances, and the threat to life in Iraq posed by the bombers at Fairford was one such situation. The burden of proof, he said, was ‘on the prosecution’. It was not necessary for the defendants to have been engaged in actually ‘stopping’ a crime. It was enough that they were seeking to ‘prevent’ it, and that they honestly believed that homes and property in Baghdad were in need of protection.
James Hines, representing Paul Milling, denied that the action taken was merely a symbolic ‘protest’. The defendants acted reasonably, he said, in the light of everything they had read and heard before the start of the war. Reminding the jury that the region now devastated by war is one of the cradles of civilisation, he asked them to imagine how they would react if 30 missiles, or even three, landed on their own city. He accepted that it was difficult for Westerners leading safe lives to imagine an existence where people struggle to survive without electricity or water, among unexploded cluster bombs, with sudden death an ever-present reality. These, he said, were conditions the defendants had been able to picture, and that they had done their best to address. Theirs had been a genuine attempt to save life.
During the previous week the court heard moving testimony from those who were in Baghdad during the bombing, including a young Iraq man who survived the cluster bombing of a residential area.
Phil Pritchard and Toby Olditch start their trial on Monday the 2nd of October (9.30 am at Bristol Crown Court). Charged with conspiracy to commit criminal damage for trying to reach and disable a B-52 bomber at Fairford. Please come and show solidarity.