The “No Faith in Trident” Burghfield Protesters case was thrown out by District Judge Lacha in Reading Magistrates Court yesterday, 14 December. We walked free at lunchtime, much earlier than we dared hope.
The judge dismissed the case after the prosecution concluded because they had not proved Aggravated Trespass.
What happened in court?
Family, friends and supporters came during the day, which made the court a much friendlier place for us. Among other thanks to London Catholic Worker, Trident Ploughshares, Wandsworth Green Party, the Quakers and Put Down the Sword, and to Veterans for Peace who planned to attend on the second day.
Judge Lacha was quite an imposing presence, not only for us but for the prosecution and police giving evidence.
First, the Prosecution laid out its case then the Court was shown CCTV and video camera footage of the protest. We watched this in surreal silence for what felt like hours. The point was mainly to show we had been told to leave by the police.
Then the Prosecution called the police Sergeant who had been present on 27th June. He had led the Protester Removal Team which had done exactly what it says on the tin. When asked he said he did not consider the right to life in the context of policing a facility that makes nuclear weapons. John graciously thanked him for the conscientious way with which the Sergeant had unglued him from Sam.
He was also asked about his assessment of what was happening. This was the crux of it.
Under Section 69 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, a precondition of a guilty verdict is that the senior police officer present had a “reasonable belief” that we were committing Aggravated Trespass when he instructed us to leave.
But in his evidence, the sergeant said that he was following orders from a superior officer, his Silver Commander, who was not present at the scene. Indeed, he went further saying that his commander was having separate decision-making conversations. He said, “It was a direct order from my superior officer. I wouldn’t have questioned it.”
This suggested he did not form a “reasonable belief” on his own account and on this the case fell. The case was further undermined by the admission that the Pingewood gate was closed for the whole month of action, and not opened before or after our protest.
We also heard from Richard David Taylor, a Ministry of Defence official working at AWE. He explained that they were concerned about emergency access to the site through the gate. Under cross-examination he admitted that nuclear weapons are Weapons of Mass Destruction, and confirmed that nothing would be made public about the timing of when weapons were assembled. He implied there might be something “more sinister” behind the protest, which I assume was based on seeing Sam (joke).
This was largely academic however, because the police testimony had not done what I needed to for the prosecution. After the prosecution concluded, the Judge invited the Defence to make a submission of “no case to answer”, which was prepared over lunch.
The Judge concluded that the Sergeant “did not turn his own mind to it which is what is required by the legislation.”
Thanks to Bindmans Solicitors and Matrix Chambers for their help and support throughout.
What we didn’t get to say
Had the case continued, each of the five protesters would have testified as to what we did and why, and the Defence would have made its case. We could have talked about our commitment to nonviolence, our fears and horror at nuclear weapons. I would have described a recurring dream I have of driving towards a mushroom cloud, as well as encounters with Hibakusha (nuclear weapons survivors). Gillian could’ve described the many other protests she had done in the month of action.
We would also have introduced expert witness testimony from Dr Rebecca Johnson and Timmon Wallis. Rebecca’s clearly demonstrated the impossibility of a nuclear weapon being used legally, demonstrating we were attempting to prevent a greater crime. Section 69 also refers to whether there is deterring of obstruction of “lawful activity,” which begs the question of whether the assembly of Weapons of Mass Destruction is lawful.
Tim presented the grounds for a human rights defence, citing the many Quakers and people of faith who have nonviolently opposed violence due to the leadings of their conscience; we were expressing our right to freedom of conscience religion. I still hold these things to be true, even if they weren’t rehearsed in court.
Thank you Rebecca and Tim for your hard work! Next time!
So what next?
Well Britain still has its nuclear WMDs, and they’re only one totem of a system of war that’s far from abeyance. That isn’t going to change by itself.