Judge Upholds Acquittal Of Arms Trade Protesters
District judge Angus Hamilton held there was “clear, credible and largely unchallenged evidence from the expert witnesses of wrongdoing" at an arms trade fair.
A district judge has refused to state a case for the Crown Prosecution Service after it appealed the acquittal of eight anti–arms trade activists who were charged with blockading the the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) arms fair in London last September.
In April, the campaigners were cleared after district judge Angus Hamilton at Stratford magistrates' court accepted their defence that they were taking action to prevent a crime because of the possibility that illegal weapons were being sold.
The five men and three women argued they had been trying to stop the sale of weapons to regimes accused of human rights abuses when they were charged with wilful obstruction of the highway after blocking military vehicles from entering the ExCel centre in east London.
The event, which takes place every two years in the London Docklands, has exhibitors from around the world, including the world's largest arms companies. Items on sale include rifles, tanks, jets, battleships, surveillance, and riot control equipment.
The campaigners claimed in court that illegal weapons were being sold to regimes accused of human rights abuses, but the fair's organisers said compliance regulations were not breached.
Hamilton accepted the campaigners' defence, saying: "[There is] clear, credible, and largely unchallenged evidence from the expert witnesses of wrongdoing at DSEI and compelling evidence that it took place in 2015."
The ruling has wider political significance because MPs from the committee on arms export control have confirmed that illegality at arms fairs will now become part of an inquiry into the trade.
Earlier this month, the CPS appealed against Hamilton's decision, arguing that the defendants were not attempting to prevent a crime and had submitted irrelevant and inadmissible evidence.
However, in his judgement handed down on Friday, Hamilton said: "The CPS application repeatedly significantly misrepresents the contents of the judgment delivered at the end of the case and therefore seeks to challenge the decisions reached on wholly erroneous bases ... The very least the CPS should do is read the judgment fully and, if appropriate, frame their application based on what was actually decided rather than what they seem to believe was decided."
A CPS spokesperson said: "We are considering our position regarding an appeal in this case."
In a joint public statement, the defendants' campaign said: "Win or lose, we have throughout remained wholeheartedly at peace with our actions to try and shut down the fair. We choose to remain on the side of history that rejects the facilitation of torture and mass indiscriminate killing for corporate profit."
The campaign went on: "As ever, our only regret is that we didn't stop the arms fair. As fresh evidence continues to emerge of the suffering caused by arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other brutal regimes the UK government's position grows increasingly untenable. The dictators are set to return to our doorstep in September 2017. Through direct action and using a diversity of tactics we can all act to shut down the DSEI arms fair – next year and for good."
Samantha Broadley, from Bindmans Solicitors, which represented one of the defendants, said: "We hope that now the CPS has failed in appealing the basis upon which the defendants were acquitted, the prosecuting authorities will divert their time, energy, and resources into investigating those alleged to have been involved in very serious crimes".
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against the Arms Trade said: "The case should never have gone to court in the first place. The arms trade is an illegitimate and immoral trade, and governments like the UK, and events like DSEI, are at the heart of it.
"That is why we need to mobilise the biggest possible opposition when it returns to London next year. DSEI fuels war and human rights abuses. It can't be tweaked or altered; it needs to be shut down for good."
BuzzFeed News has contacted the CPS for a statement.