11th July 2017
Appeal against Conviction
The High Court will today consider an appeal by a group of Christian activists who were convicted in January by Reading Magistrates Court of Wilful Obstruction of the Highway during a protest. The group, named Put Down the Sword joined others from the Trident Ploughshares network in attempting to stop the building of new Trident nuclear missiles replacing old stock. They were arrested after successfully blocking all vehicle access to the Burghfield Atomic Weapons Establishment in June 2016, which the MoD said hindered activity on the site where the missiles are built.
The appeal today will centre around details of what was actually obstructed. The protesters claim they were careful not to block the public from using any roads around Burghfield, and were only blocking entry to the site – a private road where the stated offence is impossible.
What’s illegal? Obstructing Trident or Trident itself
The Judge at Reading Magistrates (DJ Khan) had already rejected the argument that blocking Trident counted as Prevention of Crime when considering a previous case – since he concluded that UK law does not ban the production of nuclear missiles.
Last Friday however 122 countries meeting at a United Nations conference in New York today adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the first multilateral legally-binding instrument for nuclear disarmament to have been negotiated in 20 years. Although the UK and other nuclear weapons states did not support this process and weren’t present, the treaty will come into force in September. Once it receives 50 state ratifications it enters into International Law in the same way as the ban on biological weapons did 45 years ago, and the ban on chemical weapons did 25 years ago regardless of whether the UK ratifies it.
Angie Zelter of Trident Ploughshares said ” Trident Ploughshares actions have always been within the law. It is a crime to threaten mass destruction and this treaty strengthens pressure on the UK government to finally obey International Law.”
Opposing Nuclear Weapons – intrinsic to Christianity?
In their trial, the defendants testified to how they felt compelled by their Christian faith to take action for peace and justice, even where this lead them into conflict with the law or the authorities.
They presented evidence from Father Peter Hunter, dominican friar and lecturer in philospophy at Oxford about the intrinsic link between Christian belief and opposing weapons of mass destruction. He wrote:
“The argument against nuclear weapons is about as simple as it is possible for a moral argument to be.
“If it is never justifiable to do something, it is never justifiable to threaten to do it. It is never justifiable to kill cities full of people indiscriminately…so the nuclear deterrence is never justifiable. ..Christians draw from Romans 3:8 the principle, “You cannot do evil that good may come” (or, more prosaically, ends do not justify means.) Christians therefore will not accept that any end, no matter how good, could make the indiscriminate killing of a whole city justifiable.”
Defendant Angela Ditchfield, 38 from Cambridge said: “Sometimes political leaders like to claim they follow Christian values. Well, Christian values include not using fear to control others, especially the threat of annihilation. They include caring for the poor and the sick, for children, migrants and the elderly – spending money on things to help people not on threats of destruction. For me actions like this are as intrinsic to being a Christian as going to church and praying. I’d urge all Christians to join in! And also people of all faiths or none – I don’t know any religious or humanitarian value system which would endorse such widespread loss of life & environmental destruction.”
The verdict is due to be given around mid afternoon today.
1. Put Down the Sword is a small group of Christians who take nonviolent direct action together against the causes of war, nuclear weapons, and climate change in the UK. We are from a wide-range of different theological and faith backgrounds, but all feel it is important that our faith is reflected in our actions, and that our faith leads us to intervene in the causes of death and violence in our world.(www.putdownthesword.wordpress.com
2. Those convicted were: Nina Carter-Brown, Nick Cooper, Angela Ditchfield, Joanna Frew, Alison Parker
They are represented in court by Jo Buckley of Matrix Chambers, and Adam Payter of 6KBW
3. The five activists used superglue and lock-on tubes (with messages painted on eg ‘Jesus said love your enemies don’t bomb them’) to enable them to block an entrance to the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) at Burghfield, Berkshire on 27th June 2016. Along with 2 other groups blocking 2 other entrances, vehicle access to the whole site was blocked for about 2 hours.