Activists Acquitted in Effort to Prevent British Fighter Jet Delivery to Saudi Arabia
A UK court has acquitted two activists for breaking-in to a BAE Systems factory to disarm Typhoon fighter jets meant for the Saudi war on Yemen
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. In the UK, a reverend and a Quaker activist took their disarmament campaign to another level back in January when they tried to disarm a Saudi Arabia-bound fighter jet with a hammer. They were engaged in a campaign to stop the UK sales of BAE systems, typhoon jets to Saudi Arabia due to its brutal involvement in the civil war in Yemen.
Sam Walton and Reverend Daniel Woodhouse were both acquitted by the district judge, James Clarke on October 26th. Now the UN has declared Yemen to be the site of the world’s worst cholera outbreak and also according to the UN, a child in Yemen dies of preventable causes every 10 minutes, largely due to this war. Joining us now for a discussion on his actions is Sam Walton. Sam is a Quaker that was arrested and charged, then acquitted for attempting to disarm the fighter jets. Thanks for joining us today, Sam.
SAM WALTON: Thank you.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now Sam is also a human right’s activist that works with Yemenis and Bahamians to highlight the injustices of the arms trade. Sam, let’s start off with the charges and your actions. Describe for us why you took this type of action along with the reverend, and what ultimately you were charged with, and what your day in court was like.
SAM WALTON: Okay. At about four-thirty in the morning on January the 29th, myself and Reverend Daniel Woodhouse used boat cutters to cut through two fences into BA Walton. BA Walton is where all of the UK-made fighter jets, which we sell to Saudi Arabia, that are being used to indiscriminately bomb civilian infrastructure and to commit war crimes in Yemen, are assembled in the UK. We cut through these fences. We crossed a floodlit tax runway, and we made it to the hangar doors. The first door was open, which we thought was pretty lucky. The second door, though, was a security swipe mechanism on that. We tried to pry the door open with a crowbar. Unfortunately, that made quite a lot of noise, and the security personnel heard us. We had to stop.
We were about two meters away from a Eurofighter typhoon, which is the main fighter jet we’re selling to the Saudis. And we were absolutely gutted to not be able to reach the planes, because that would have saved lives in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are trying to, are dropping as many bombs as they can on Yemen. They need as many planes and as much war material as they can get their hands on. If we’d have got to one of those jets, we would have been able to stop the planes going to Yemen. That would have stopped the bombs falling. And that would have saved lives.
SHARMINI PERIES: Why did you two risk conviction and imprisonment for this kind of campaign? Was there no other way of protesting this action, in terms of the arms sales, and these jets taking off?
SAM WALTON: Well, both Daniel and myself have campaigned against the arms trade, and in particular, against arming the despotic and torturous regime of Saudi Arabia for at least a decade. We’ve tried everything. I’ve written to my MP. I’ve been on stools. I’ve dressed up. I’ve taken part in theater. I’ve been on other types of actions. I’ve picketed arms trade dinners. I’ve been to arms fairs. I’ve been to their shareholder meetings of BA systems. If you’ve got any ideas, let me know. I’d welcome them. We’ve tried all of that, and it’s not making any difference.
On Wednesday, the British defense minister, Michael Fallon, came out and said, “Stop criticizing Saudi Arabia. It’s jeopardizing our arms sales.” And he told that to Parliament. He told the UK Parliament to stop having a democratic process because it was endangering the selling of weapons. That really exemplifies just how determined the conservative party and previous administrations have been to ignore any kind of human rights concerns and sell weapons to Saudi Arabia.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now speaking of democratic processes, obviously the judge who ruled in your case appreciated the fact that you were engaged in protest. What were his explanation for acquitting your case?
SAM WALTON: Well, we didn’t expect to be found not guilty because we broke into that base. We caused criminal damage. We were attempting to disarm these planes. However, we were running a defense that we were trying to prevent damage to property in Yemen under the Criminal Damage Act. We managed to show the judge that we took reasonable action to prevent imminent damage to property in Yemen. Of course, there’s also war crimes and obviously saving lives of innocent people in Yemen but ultimately the judge thought our arguments were reasonable. And really once he found us not guilty, what it really is, is a condemnation of Saudi Arabia’s actions in Yemen and the war crimes they’re committing there. And it’s also a condemnation of BAE systems and the UK government’s arms export policies, complicity in frankly, every single civilian death in Yemen.
SHARMINI PERIES: Why is it that a judge heard your case, instead of having a jury hearing?
SAM WALTON: That’s actually a very personal question in this case because we carried onto the base a note explaining our action. We wanted our action to be accountable. We explained that we wanted to disarm 13 jets going to Yemen. Going to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen. Those jets together will have been worth the best part of a billion pounds. Now that is possibly the largest conspiracy to do criminal damage case in UK legal history, but we were charged with only a thousand pounds worth of damage to the doors and the fence, despite the fact they’ve literally got a written confession to us trying to do this hundreds of millions of pounds worth of damage.
That’s because they, BAE systems and the crown prosecution service wanted this case to go away. They couldn’t let us off. That would obviously show there was some right in our action but they just wanted to quietly get us in front of a judge, found guilty, and make it go away. During the case, people weren’t talking about whether we’re innocent or guilty. They were talking about BAE systems and the UK’s export policy is complicit in these crimes in Saudi Arabia. Yeah, and the great thing is, is it completely backfired, and a judge found us innocent of criminal damage.
SHARMINI PERIES: Is it true that the UK government can now actually appeal your acquittal?
SAM WALTON: Any case in the UK courts can be appealed. However, I would say that district judge James Clarke had a firm understanding of the law and his verdict is a solid verdict. I’m certain that those at BAE systems and the crown prosecution service will be looking to overturn this result. However, I think they may have difficulties because we argued our case very well and the district judge took that on board.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Sam. I thank you so much for joining us and for your very important precedent-setting case here that you have brought about and forced the laws of the land to deal with. And it’s an example for the world. Thank you so much.
SAM WALTON: Thank you.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.