Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Hang jury in ploughshares trial - B52two

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11th October 2006: Jury Discharged: Prosecution fail to prove bomber disarmament action a crime: Peace activists face retrial at Bristol Crown Court

The judge in the case of two Oxford based peace activists charged with conspiracy to cause criminal damage has today discharged the jury after they were unable to reach a verdict. In a trial lasting 8 days the prosecution failed to prove that the planned disarmament action was a crime. The jury at Bristol Crown Court heard how Phil Pritchard and Toby Olditch broke into RAF Fairford 3 and half years ago with the intention of grounding US Airforce bombers bound for Iraq. Last month the trial of two other peace activists also resulted in a hung jury. Both cases are likely to go to retrial next year.

Background: Phil and Toby entered RAF Fairford on 18th March 2003 with the intent of disarming B52 bombers bound for Iraq. They carried paint, nuts and bolts to gunk up the engine and fencing pliers intended to damage the aiming mechanism on the bomber. Following their arrest they were held on remand in HMP Gloucester for 3 months. Since then they have been involved in a series of legal hearings culminating in this trial. In February 2006 after a five day hearing in the House of Lords the Law Lords ruled out the defence that they were acting to prevent a crime of aggression. In that trial the defendants argued that they acted lawfully to prevent war crimes and damage to property. The trial of Paul Milling and Margaret Jones also arrested at RAF Fairford on similar charges resulted in a hung jury in September 2006.

Giving evidence last week, Pritchard (a self-employed carpenter and father) and Olditch (a self-employed builder) argued that their actions were justified and lawful because they were protecting Iraqi property and aiming to prevent war crimes. It was their belief that the dropping of cluster bombs and depleted uranium bombs[1] on Iraq would constitute a war crime because of the disproportionate damage these weapons cause to civilians and the infrastructure. As part of their defence, international expert and Nobel Laureate Rae McGrath gave evidence of the horrific effects of the bombs that were to be used in the 48 hour "Shock and Awe" operation. The court was told that the number of bombs to be used would be equivalent to the total used in the whole of the first Gulf war.

In a video they took with them on their disarmament action Pritchard and Olditch detailed their many anti-war protests leading up to the action, and explained how they had planned to ensure that their peaceful actions saved lives In Iraq whilst causing no risk to military personnel in this country.

Philip Pritchard said;
“It is devastating that our politicians took the road to war; we took responsible action and set out to stop B52 bombers. I stand by our decision to try to stop the bombing of Iraq and hope that cluster bombs and depleted uranium will never be used again. I hope the jury will hear our evidence at the next trial and acquit.”

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Editor Notes: Venue: Bristol Crown Court, Small Street Bristol BS1 1DA

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