Sunday, September 03, 2006

Fairford Disarmers Update


Dr. Margaret Jones & Paul Milling outside Bristol Crown Court.









RE-TRIAL ORDERED IN CASE OF FAIRFORD DEFENDANTS


Contacts:

Robbie Manson (solicitor) 07812 681 083

Margaret Jones 07804 464 014
(or 0117 94 66 885 BEFORE 9.00 am)

Paul Milling 07769 - 665235


A judge at Bristol Crown Court has ordered a re-trial in the case of two peace activists charged with damaging military equipment to stop planes taking off. After a day and a half of debate, the jury failed to reach any clear verdict.

Paul Milling and Margaret Jones are charged with conspiracy to commit criminal damage after disabling several dozen bomb carrying and fuel vehicles at RAF Fairford in March 2003. They were attempting to hinder take-off of 14 B-52 planes to bomb Iraq at the start of the 2003 invasion. Milling and Jones say this was a bid to delay the planes’ departure for Baghdad and give more people time to flee the city – thus protecting property and helping to prevent war crime.

The trial begins next week at the same court, of Phil Pritchard and Toby Olditch, charged with conspiracy to commit criminal damage for trying to reach and disable a B-52 bomber at Fairford.


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Here is an article I wrote for the Big Issue at the time concerning this case.

"SAVING ONE LIFE WILL MAKE IT WORTHWHILE"

Would you break the law and go to prison to protest against the war in Iraq? CJ Stone met a woman who has...

Big Issue, March 31st-April 6th 2003

In a leaked memorandum a couple of weeks ago, around the time that the so-called Shock and Awe campaign was underway in Baghdad, Richard Sambrook, a senior BBC executive, warned programme makers against broadcasting too much of the protests and "attracting some of the more extreme anti-war views."

In other words, a campaign of mass trauma, on a population of several million, has to be considered as "moderate", while people opposing the campaign and attempting to defend the civilian population are labelled "extreme".

Dr Margaret Jones, 53, a freelance writer, anti-war protester and member of Trident Ploughshares, is a most unlikely extremist. She’s well-spoken, polite, middle class, cultured, well-read, and highly motivated. In fact, she’s one of the most moderate sounding extremists I have ever met.

I visited her in Holloway Prison, where she was on remand for conspiracy to commit criminal damage and aggravated trespass, for an action which took place at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire on the 13th of March. In fact, along with Quaker activist and peace campaigner Arthur Paul Milling (known as Paul), she cut her way into the base, and, armed with hammers, spikes and cutting tools, managed to effectively disable as many as thirty to thirty five support vehicles, including low-loaders, oil tankers and bomb transporters, by cutting hydraulic lines and brake pipes, slashing tyres and smashing dials and windows. Possibly more than £50,000 worth of damage was committed between them.

She denies none of it.

Fairford, of course, is where the B52 bombers responsible for "Shock and Awe" are based. Protests around the base have been increasing as the war continues. In fact more than 3,000 people attended a rally at the gates on Saturday 22nd March 2003, with a huge police presence, including riot police and horses, and more are planned for the future.


Margaret intends to plead "lawful excuse" for the action. Lawful excuse is the provision within law to commit a crime either to stop a greater crime, or to defend someone in danger of their life. The example she gave to illustrate this was of a baby in a burning building. A rescuer might have to kick down a door to enter the building - a criminal act, of course - but has the lawful excuse that the damage was necessary in order to save the baby’s life. The lawful excuse in the case of the Fairford action arises: firstly from the fact that the war in Iraq has no legal basis in International Law, and is therefore illegal, and secondly that some lives may have been saved as a consequence of what they did.

As Margaret said, "if we have saved even one person’s life, then it was worth it."

It’s amazing how relaxed she seemed, considering that conspiracy to commit criminal damage is such a serious offence. It is the conspiracy part of the charge that carries most weight, and there is no upper limit to the length of imprisonment a judge can pass down. But Margaret is, at least in her own mind, prepared for the worst. As she said, she practices something she called "creative pessimism", meaning, it is better to expect the worst and be surprised if things work out better than you had expected, than to expect the best and risk major disappointment. Consequently she was preparing herself for a possible long period of incarceration, practicing yoga, reading a biography of Ghandi (who himself spent time in prison) and rationing her TV to the news in the evening.

She has also done a good job spreading her views amongst the other prisoners. During exercise she took to wearing a small poster pinned to her lapel. "No War!" it said. The guards paid no attention, but several of the prisoners commented. Mostly they agreed with her, and one or two came up to shake her hand. Even when prisoners disagreed, it allowed her the opportunity to discuss the issues. One prisoner came away from such a conversation having changed her mind.

There is something profoundly comforting and reasonable in her demeanour. It’s like she’s taking you into her confidence. Even the US guards on the air force base would have sensed this. They were startled, of course, possibly frightened, at finding the two of them there, amidst all the mayhem of broken trucks. The guards were armed to the teeth, and the protesters could easily have been mistaken for terrorists. It might have gone seriously wrong. But once Margaret starts to talk, it’s like you are being lulled by her good sense. She saw the armed soldier in front of her, not as an enemy, but as precisely what he was: an ordinary young man, and spoke to him as such, in a kindly, understanding tone, detailing not the specifics of what she had done (she wanted them to have to pull all the vehicles out of commission while they were being checked) but the extent. Later they were passed on to the Gloucestershire police.

She has since been released on bail, under curfew, having promised not to engage in any more such actions until her trial. But it’s remarkable how little coverage there has been in the national press, despite the fact that such protests are continuing around the country.

When I asked her what her motivations were for risking her freedom in such a way, she quoted the nineteenth century American writer, Henry David Thoreau at me: "Make of your life a counter-friction to stop the machine." And while neither her nor her co-defendant, Paul Milling, would want to incite others to take such actions, they did offer a possible alternative. As Paul Milling said: "if people agree with us, and they want to do something to stop this war, there’s one simple thing they can do: stop buying American products. Because the US government are manipulated by US industry. So if you want to buy a car, don’t buy a Ford, don’t buy a Vauxhall. Not going into McDonalds, not buying Coke, it will make a huge difference."

After I left Margaret in Holloway I stopped off at King’s Cross for a pint. Someone leapt at me in the street, wanting to shake my hand.

"I just saw you in Holloway," he said. "You were talking to the political prisoner."

"That’s right, do you know her?"

"No," he said, "but my daughter is in there. I just want to say that we both agree with what she’s doing." And he gave me a double thumbs-up sign to indicate his approval.


The Stop the War Coalition website is at:

http://www.stopwar.org.uk/

The Reclaim the Bases (responsible for organising protests at Fairford and other bases) website is at:

http://www.reclaimthebases.org.uk/

*******

Following is an unpublished piece, also about the case.

While the Hutton inquiry raised a number of interesting questions about the conduct of the government in the months before and after the invasion of Iraq, one essential question remained outside of its remit. This was the question of whether the war was actually legal in the first place.

Now, in an unprecedented case, this issue is to be addressed by a High Court Judge, Mr. Justice Butterfield, in the unlikely setting of Bristol Crown Court: not normally the scene of such weighty deliberations on matters of national and international importance.

Big Issue readers will remember an interview in March last year with Dr Margaret Jones, at the time on remand in Holloway prison. Dr Jones, and her associate, Birmingham Quaker Paul Milling - both members of the direct action, anti-war organisation Trident Ploughshares - had been discovered inside RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire on the evening of the 13th of March 2003, having spent more than two hours cutting fences, evading the guards and disabling a number of support vehicles for the B52 bombers: smashing the dials and windscreens of three fuel tankers, losing the ignitions keys down a drain, putting grinding paste and sand into the fuel tanks of some low-loaders, and cutting the brake pipes of a significant number of trolley units used to transport the bombs.

They came heart-stoppingly close to being caught several times while they were inside the base. At one point they were underneath the trolley units, watching as a pair of American army boots marched by only a few inches from their faces. Another time, while they were cutting razor wire to get into the part of the base that housed the bombers, the headlights of a jeep flashed over their huddled forms; but whoever it was in the cab seemed not to want to notice them.

When they were finally arrested - by a startled US serviceman with a gun - they handed him statements declaring the war on Iraq to be illegal. Dr Jones was particularly complimentary of the young American’s presence of mind.

“He looked absolutely freaked,” she said. “I’ve never seen anyone so upset in my life.”

As she pointed out, they were prepared, he wasn’t. “He didn’t know how many we were, if we were violent, if we were IRA, if we were al-Queda. There could have been hundreds of us in the bushes, but he kept his gun pointed at the ground.”

Both of them were passed on to the RAF police and charged with conspiracy to cause criminal damage. Once arrested they were asked if they considered themselves to be terrorists.

“I found that easy to answer,” Dr Jones said. “My response was, well if you want to talk about terrorists, shall we talk about George Bush?”

They were also asked if they hated Americans. Again Dr Jones found the question easy to answer, having taught in the States. In fact, she says, the reason she wasn’t upset by the serviceman when he arrested them was because she identified him as exactly the sort of young person she had dealt with in her previous life.

“I do genuinely like Americans,” she said.

Subsequently three other peace activists, Toby Olditch, Phil Pritchard and Josh Richards, were also charged with similar offences. None of them have denied any of the charges.

Instead they have called upon a number of rarely used arguments in English Law, specifically the defence of lawful excuse under the Criminal Damage Act 1971, the defence of acting to prevent a crime, under the Criminal Law Act 1967, and the defence of necessity, which can be used in all criminal charges except murder. Put very simply, all three defences allow the notion of committing a crime in order either to save lives, or to stop a greater crime.

Dr. Jones gave a particularly graphic example: “If somebody is locked in a house and the house is set on fire, if you rescued that person from being burned alive, nobody would come after you and say you committed a crime in kicking the door in or cutting it down with an axe. So we are arguing lawful excuse. All right, we committed what would technically be a crime, but what we did was justified because the crime of the war on Iraq was so much greater, and we were trying to prevent that crime. That the small nominally criminal actions that we did were designed to prevent this monstrous crime of bombing Iraq.”

There will be a preliminary hearing in late January or early February, while the main trial of Jones and Milling will take place on March the 8th.

It is the preliminary hearing that is the most significant and unprecedented, as it will impinge upon the trials of all five defendants. Before any trial can take place, Mr. Justice Butterfield has to consider a number of tricky issues: including, firstly, whether the war was unlawful under international law, and then, consequently, whether it was illegal under UK domestic law, as both questions are central to the defence case. A number of international law experts will be called upon to give their opinions. If the Judge then decides that there is any question at all of the war’s illegality, then it opens up the possibility of allowing several important defence witnesses to be brought before the jury.

Meanwhile Paul Milling and Margaret Jones are preparing themselves for any eventuality.

Paul is busy clearing up all the outstanding odd jobs he still owes to the Quaker community in Birmingham, while Margaret is practising her yoga.

What is most impressive about both of them is the sanguine way they treat the possibility of long-term incarceration.

As Paul says: “The way I see it, if you think something is morally wrong, and there isn’t time to do anything about it legally, then you’ve got an obligation to do it illegally. And if that means you’re going to go down, you’re going to go down.”

To which Dr. Jones adds: “whichever way it goes we feel very comfortable with what we did. We know where the real criminals are, and it‘s not us.”

*******

3 comments:

Angel Feathers Tickle Me said...

Love to all........

Lucy said...

Any news of how the case is going? Before moving house eighteen months ago, Paul went to Cotteridge Quaker Meeting where I am an attender, and we are all hanging on for news of him!

If you can, please post a comment on my blog (URL below) to let me know how him and Margaret are getting on.

Thank you!
Lucy

Lucy said...

And is there a permanent URL that I can use to link to this entry??