Four acquitted of DSEI arms fair protest charges

From left: Defendants Chris Cole, Jo Frew, Henrietta Cullinan and Nora Zeigler were previously acqui

From left: Defendants Chris Cole, Jo Frew, Henrietta Cullinan and Nora Zeigler were previously acquitted. Picture: Campaign Against Arms Trade - Credit: Campaign Against Arms Trade

Stratford Magistrates’ Court has cleared four anti-war activists for protesting a major London arms fair, describing their actions as “reasonable”.

District Judge Hamilton today dismissed the case against the three women and one man accused of wilfully obstructing the highway ahead of the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) gun show.

Christopher Cole, 54; Henrietta Cullinan, 56; Joanna Frew, 38, and 28-year-old Nora Ziegler were among more than 100 people arrested for blocking weapons arriving at the ExCeL for the fair last September.

All four defendants accepted they had “locked on”, a peaceful technique making it hard for them to be removed, in the road leading to the exhibition centre, only to be arrested minutes later.

“On the day after the actions of the suffragettes were lauded, it is apt that today’s generation of direct action protesters do not have to wait 100 years to be vindicated,” said lawyer Raj Chada, who represented Nora.

“These defendants seek to bring to our attention to the evil of the arms trade – it is to that cause that we must focus.”

Today’s decision marked the fourth in a series of trials involving demonstrations against a fair campaigners say attracts a “roll call of despots, dictatorships and human rights abusers”.

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Charges against most of those arrested were dropped, though 46 have still faced trial throughout January and February.

Nine of 10 protesters tried last month were found guilty of similar charges.

Guests invited to DSEI last year included six repressive regimes on the Foreign Office’s human rights watch list, three of which the Department for International Trade called “core markets” for arms sales.

They include Saudi Arabia, whose brutal bombing campaign in Yemen has attracted accusations of crimes against humanity, as well as more than £4.6 billion worth of arms sales with the UK.

Organisers argue the fair caters to legal arms sales within “a well-regulated environment”, though external groups such as Amnesty International have discovered exhibitors promoting unlawful weapons at past events, specifically in 2007 and 2011.

DSEI has banned such organisations from the fair since 2015.

The UK is the second largest arms exporter in the world.