Arms Fair Protesters Win Court Battle

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A YORK man is speaking out against the arms trade, days after he was cleared of obstructing a public highway in a protest.

Tom Franklin, a Green party activist from Clifton, was among eight defendants acquitted by a district judge at Stratford Magistrate’s Court in London last week.

The group had been arrested at the Excel Centre – the site of the DSEI arms fair last September. Facing charges of “obstructing a public highway” – for lying down in a path of a lorry taking a tank into the centre – they argued they were preventing much more serious crimes like the sale of illegal weapons, or legal arms being sold to regimes known for human rights abuses.

It was an argument District Judge Angus Hamilton accepted, before he acquitted and freed all eight defendants.

Mr Franklin said: “I think this shows the seriousness of the offences [of arms dealing], and the complete lack of anything that the government has been doing to prevent the sales of torture equipment and legal weapons which are then used for human rights abuses.”

In the days before the fair was due to open, Mr Franklin had been at protests on the site when he and other campaigners spotted a low loader delivering a tank to the centre.

“I thought ‘if I┬ábelieve in this stuff I can’t just stand by, I have to do something’ – so I went and lay in front of the tank.”

The protesters were arrested and carried away by police – the first time 57 year old Mr Franklin had ever been arrested.

In his judgement, the district judge said: “I was impressed by the evidence of each defendant, which in each case was expressed with great sincerity, as to how they came to the conclusion that the form of direct action which they chose to adopt was the only effective method left to them in seeking to prevent the unlawful sale of arms which they believed was occurring at the 2015 DSEI.

“These defendants decisions were not irrational, impulsive decisions taken on the spur of the moment but decisions that were reached after the consideration of and attempts at other methods of bringing the issues to the attention of the government and the relevant UK law enforcement agencies.”

The case was heard at a magistrate’s court, meaning the ruling cannot set a precedent for future cases, but Parliament is now planning an enquiry into what happens at the arms fair.

Mr Franklin added: “What it really needs to be is an enquiry the authorities’ lack of enforcement into what happens at the arms fair.”

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