Eight acquitted including former Chairman of Camden Greens as Judge accepts they were trying to prevent illegal arms dealing at DSEI fair

The defendants with supporters outside court

The defendants with supporters outside court - Credit: Archant

Eight defendants, including the former Chairman of the Camden Green Party, have been found not guilty of obstructing the public highway for their part in a protest against the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) arms fair after the judge accepted they were trying to prevent illegal arms dealing.

Tom Franklin with supporters, including Green Party mayoral candidate Sian Berry, outside court

Tom Franklin with supporters, including Green Party mayoral candidate Sian Berry, outside court - Credit: Archant

District Judge Angus Hamilton this morning said the Court had been presented with “clear, credible and largely unchallenged evidence that criminal wrongdoing had occurred at past DSEI exhibitions involving the sale of arms to countries which then use those arms against civilian populations, and the sale of arms that were inherently unlawful, such as cluster munitions and items designed for torture.”

He dismissed all charges against the defendants, who include 21-year old Asa Al-Aali from Camden, after accepting they took the law into their own hands only because the government and its agencies were failing to enforce it.

Former Camden Green Party Chairman Tom Franklin, 57, who laid down in the road in an attempt to halt the passage of a tank, said after the verdict that he was delighted - but added that justice had only been partly served.

He said: “Justice has been done for the eight of us, but not for the innocent victims of war crimes. The people who should have been on trial are the arms dealers, and those who are complicit in it.”

The verdict was delivered to cheers from the packed public gallery after the Judge said he did not accept the Crown’s contention that a not guilty verdict would “open the floodgates” to anarchy in the UK.

He said the prosecution had failed to prove during the week long trial at Stratford Magistrates Court that the five men and three women did not have an “honestly held belief” that crimes were taking place at last September’s fair at the ExCel Centre in Docklands.

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The Judge said the Crown had also failed to prove that the defendants’ actions were not “reasonable” or proportionate” to what they were trying to achieve

Whilst billed as a trial of eight protestors, the case has effectively placed the UK arms trade firmly in the dock.

Expert witnesses, including Oliver Sprague of Amnesty International and Kat Hobbs of Campaign Against Arms Trade, delivered damning testimony on the nature of the deals that take place at the biennial fair, which is attended by around 35,000 people and has around 1,600 exhibitors.

The Court heard that Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Turkey and Israel are among the major clients represented at DSEI despite their records on human rights abuse.

The witnesses described how arms sold through initial contact at DSEI have been used in the oppression of the Bahraini people by its own government, in the Saudi bombing campaign against civilians in Yemen and by Turkey in their war against the Kurdish people - all of which violate international law.

The DSEI fair is organised by Clarion events, a commercial company, and receives financial, logistical and political support from the UK government.

The eight defendants, who the court heard are all of good character, expressed their gratitude to their supporters and legal representatives, and vowed that their peaceful fight against the arms trade will continue.

Mr Franklin, who remains active in the Green Party, said: “It’s really important that we use the publicity from this case to maximise awareness of the arms trade. A lot of people just don’t have a clue that this goes on. They think it’s terrible that there is so much war and so many refugees, but they just don’t realise to what extent the UK is enabling this.”

Isa Al-Aali (from Bahrain, now living in Camden), Angela Ditchfield (from Cambridge), Lisa Butler (from the UK, no fixed abode), Thomas Franklin (now living in York), Javier Gárate Neidhardt (from Chile), Susannah Mengesha (from Haringey), Luis Tinoco Torrejon (from Peru) and Bram Vranken (from Belgium) had all denied wilful obstruction of the highway.

CCTV footage played to the court showed the defendants all engaging in what the defence called “peaceful, good humoured protest”.

Some of the defendants could be heard telling police officers they would move if they inspected the lorries going into the fair to investigate whether illegal weapons were being carried in - but officers refused to do so.

Mr Franklin, Mr al-Aali and three defendants from Belgium and Chile were all represented by Raj Chada and Adeela Khan from Camden based law firm, Hodge Jones and Allen.

Mr Chada said after the verdict: “It is clear that there are no proper checks at DSEI from any state agency.

“The government has turned a blind eye not only to the unlawful activity at DSEI, but also to the consequences of a trade that is killing thousands in Yemen and elsewhere.

“It is shameful that the government did not act – and our clients felt that they had to.”

Ms Khan said: “Critically, the government’s continued failings to stop the illegal exhibition of certain equipment used for torture or the sale of weapons to regimes that the UK knows are committing human rights abuses clearly demonstrates its inability to enforce its own law in this area.

“Our clients therefore feel justified in their action and make no apology for raising the public’s attention to this event.”

Further coverage to follow