FREE: Peace activists cleared after trying to disarm fighter jets headed for Yemen

Left Foot Forward speaks to peace activist Sam Walton, who has been cleared of criminal damage for trying to smash up BAE weaponry.

A Reverend and a Quaker activist who attempted to ‘disarm’ Typhoon fighter jets headed for Yemen have been cleared of wrongdoing.

Quaker activist Sam Walton (pictured right) and Rev Daniel Woodhouse have been acquitted after breaking-in to BAE Systems’ factory in Warton, Lancashire, to break Typhoon fighter jets.

Their aim had been to stop the jets – which campaigners say had Saudi markings painted on them, – rom going to Saudi Arabia, where they would be used to support the ongoing bombing of Yemen.

Walton and Woodhouse broke in via a fence on the perimeter of the site – and got within five feet of the warplanes before being stopped by BAE security.

Walton conducted his own defence, with the two activists successfully arguing that their intention was to save innocent lives and prevent war crimes, by physically disabling the warplanes.

The same brand of jets are being used Saudi-led forces in the ongoing bombardment of Yemen. At the time of the break-in, the death toll had hit 10,000 in the conflict.

The UK has licensed £3.8 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia since the bombing began in March 2015 – despite pressure mounting to end the sales. The arms include:

  • £2.6 billion worth of ML10 licences (Aircraft, helicopters, drones)

  • £1.1 billion worth of ML4 licences (Grenades, bombs, missiles, countermeasures)

  • £572,000 worth of ML6 licences (Armoured vehicles, tanks)

But Reverend Daniel Woodhouse and Sam Walton were found not guilty at Burnley Magistrates Court on Thursday.

Speaking to Left Foot Forward, Walton said:

“We really didn’t want to do this. I really did not want to go to prison.

“But there’s a moment when I saw a picture of a British-made bomb that had been used to kill children. The bomb was made after the war had begun.

“So we sold it in full knowledge that it would be used on civilian targets. I knew my country was complicit in that.

Walton spoke of the religious drivers for his actions:

“Quakers have a long tradition of working out which laws we should take direct action action against – from slavery to apartheid.

“The difference here is that we didn’t need history to vindicate us.

“The courts are designed to work for well-intentioned people who look like we do.

“But what’s privilege for unless we use it to do something [good]?

It appears to be working. Last week, Michael Fallon told a Commons Committee that protests against Saudi’s actions were disrupting arms sales. Walton continued:

“The government are completely unwilling to listen to renowned bodies saying its actions are unconscionable.

“The next weapons order hasn’t gone through: protesting Saudi is effective.”

Would he do it again?

“I don’t think I’d have a choice…

“I completely stand by my actions. My only regret is that we didn’t get to the weapons because those are now costing lives.”

A poll last month for Campaign Against the Arms Trade showed 76% of UK adults oppose the promotion of military exports to human rights abusers.

The court heard evidence about the scale of the brutal bombardment, and serious accusations of war crimes that have been made against the Royal Saudi Air Force.

In delivering comments on his judgement District Judge James Clarke said: 

“They were impressive and eloquent men who held strong views about what they were doing and what they wanted to achieve. They impressed me as being natural in their delivery and honest throughout their evidence…”

“I heard about their belief of BAE’s role in the supply of aircraft to Saudi Arabia. I heard about their beliefs regarding the events in Yemen, that they include the death of civilians and the destruction of civilian property, and the basis for their belief that this amounted to war crimes…”

“Having considered in full the defence under sec 5 Criminal Damage Act 1971, I find the defendants not guilty.”

Left Foot Forward has been following the campaign. See: Christian activists who tried to disarm warplanes bound for Saudi Arabia are in court today

Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by becoming a Left Foot Forward Supporter today.