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Ground the Drones trial: protesters guilty of vandalising UK base used for war crimes

Anti-drone protesters who disrupted operations at RAF Waddington argued at Lincoln Magistrates' Court that British drone operations in Iraq and Syria were unlawful.


IN JANUARY 2015 four anti-drone protesters (Gary ‘Eagle Spits’ Eagling, Katha Karcher, Penny Walker and myself) entered RAF Waddington in order to disrupt on-going British drone operation in Iraq and Syria.

We knew that our presence would trigger a security alert that would put the base on ‘lockdown’ which (in the words of an RAF witness at our trial) meant that personnel “were unable to go about their normal duties bringing the effectiveness of the station to a minimum.”

We were charged with criminal damage (we cut a hole in the fence in order to gain entry) and court officials and prosecutors attempted to rush the case through the system setting a trial date to last no more than 3 hours in May. We successfully argued that more time was needed to put our case and eventually a two-day trial was set for this week (19/20 October).

All four of us admitted cutting the fence but argued, under Section 3 of Criminal Law Act 1967, that we had acted reasonably in the circumstances to prevent crime (unlawful killing both under international law and domestic law) and under the Criminal Damage Act, to prevent destruction of property (and life) in Iraq and Syria.

We argued strongly that British drone operations in Syria in particular were unlawful as there has been no UN authorisation nor parliament approval. It should be remembered that British drones operated from RAF Waddington are directly undertaking strikes in Iraq and are aiding strikes by Coalition forces in Syria by contributing intelligence gathered by British drones operating in Syria as well as by having RAF officers being embedded with US units undertaking strikes.

From credible reports gathered by Airwars we gave evidence to the court of the number of innocent civilians that had been killed in the air strikes against ISIS. Airwars report ‘Cause for Concern’, details some 52 incidents of concern (these are where there is good credible reporting of civilian casualties and it has been confirmed that US-led coalition air strikes have occurred in the area) in which between approximately 450 and 600 civilians had been killed (up till 30 June 2015).

We explained that while unquestionably many more civilians had been killed in Iraq and Syria by ISIS, the deaths of civilians in UK and US air-strikes were our responsibility and did not aid the situation. While some may argue that the strikes are not deliberately aimed at civilians, it is nevertheless perfectly predictable that civilians will be killed in air-strikes.

After two days of evidence and legal argument the judge – while stating that the defendants had “not carried out a piece of mindless vandalism” and were “undoubtedly sincere people with legitimate concerns” – found us guilty. He based his decision on a technical ruling that cutting a fence did not amount to ‘an act of force’ and that we could therefore not rely on the defence of ‘using reasonable force to prevent a crime’.

The judge further argued that we had not brought any objective evidence that strikes had contributed to civilian casualties, even though it had been his decision to not allow our expert witness, Chris Woods of Airwars, to give evidence. Finally the judge also insisted that magistrate’s courts were not the proper tribunal to hear claims of war crimes. The courts it seems are interested in certain crimes only.

We were given a two years conditional discharge, ordered to pay £22 each for the cost of the damaged fence and also pay £300 court costs each. If you would like to help with these costs we would be extremely grateful. Please make cheques payable to ‘Figtree’ (mark back of cheque -‘ activists support costs’ – and send c/o Drone Wars UK, Peace House, 19 Paradise Street, Oxford OX1 1lD

We would like to thank our excellent Barrister, Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh of Matrix Chambers instructed by the wonderful Bindmans. We are considering the possibility of an appeal.

Source: Drone Wars UK

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