Activists claim they were legally justified in causing £180,000 damage to an arms factory as they were seeking to stop what they believed were Israeli war crimes in Gaza, a court heard today.Great timing, no?
Eight activists were accused of conspiring to damage the factory in Sussex at the opening of their trial. All but one are arguing a defence of lawful excuse – that they "decommissioned" the factory to prevent civilians being killed by the Israeli military. They wanted to prevent arms being made there and sold to the Israeli air force.
They admit breaking into the factory in January last year, three weeks into the Israeli offensive against Gaza. The death toll from the offensive, called Operation Cast Lead, is disputed, although one Israeli human rights group estimates that 1,300 Palestinians died, many of them civilians. A United Nations investigation by former South African judge Richard Goldstone concluded last September that Israel, which launched the offensive in response to Palestinian rocket attacks, had committed war crimes by deliberately attacking civilians and firing white phosphorus shells.
The defence of committing an offence to prevent a more serious crime has been used on a number of occasions by peace and climate change activists.
Today Stephen Shay, counsel for the prosecution, told Hove crown court that five activists broke into the Brighton factory, owned by EDO MBM Technology, at night. "There is no issue between the prosecution and seven of the defendants that there was a plan to cause damage at the factory and that each of the seven was party to the plan," he said.
"Five … trespassers gave video-taped interviews prior to the incident stating their intent to cause damage to and 'smash up' EDO. This footage was posted on to a website known as Indymedia shortly after their arrest."
Four of the defendants read statements to police after they were arrested, accusing the EDO factory of aiding and abetting the "unlawful killing" and "slaughter" of Palestinians. They told police they believed that they had not acted illegally, Judge George Bathurst-Norman heard.
The eight who deny they conspired to cause criminal damage are Elijah Smith, 42, on remand in Lewes jail; Robert Nicholls, 52, Tom Woodhead, 25, Harvey Tadman, 44, and Ornella Saibene, 50, all of Bristol, and Rosa Bellamy, 23, Simon Levin, 35, and Chris Osmond, 29, all of Brighton.
Bellamy denies she was part of the alleged conspiracy. She, along with Levin and Osmond, were arrested outside the factory. The jury heard that Levin sent 77 texts shortly after the break-in, saying: "edo's getting trashed don't know who but I love them xxx." Equipment, including furniture, computers, and doors, was damaged. "War criminals" was painted on a wall.
Campaigners have for six years been seeking to close down the factory, which is the target of regular protests.
The trial continues and is due to last seven weeks.
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