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Smash EDO trial runs out of time at Brighton court
On Tuesday morning (August 1), presiding magistrate Peter Privett addressed three advocates in Court Two of Brighton Magistrates’ Court about the case he was about to hear.
He said: “It is a relatively simple and straightforward charge in both cases.
“The two individuals are charged with having obstructed both sets of gates to the premises and preventing people going about their lawful work. That is all it comes down to.
“I would remind you we are not the International Court of Human Rights. We are dealing with this charge only.
“If anyone starts to stray off into directions that do not relate directly and absolutely to the charge involved, I will stop them.”
But by Thursday afternoon (August 2), Mr Privett and his colleagues Ian Wedge and Jaqueline O’Kennedy, had heard one day of legal argument and about six hours of evidence about military aircraft, cluster bombs, international defence contracts, arms fairs and guidance cables.
The evidence trail led from Brighton to Fort Worth, Texas, a Seattle arms conference and even emails received by BBC's Panorama. Four police officers, the managing director of EDO and the Smash EDO protesters had given evidence.
But the case’s three-day time slot at Brighton Magistrates' Court had run out. The final evidence will not be heard until August 23.
The case against Jessica Nero and Gavin Pidwell may have been simple. The court was told that they locked and glued themselves to the gates on April 26 last year, stopping employees getting in and deliveries or collections taking place.
Their defence was far from straightforward.
‘Not lawful’ Nero, 35, of Graham Road, Mitcham, Surrey, and Pidwell, 26, of no fixed address, claim they were innocent of aggravated trespass – “obstructing or disrupting a lawful activity” – because the activity which the prosecution said was disrupted at the factory was not lawful.
Protest group Smash EDO has long campaigned to bring about the closure of the factory.
Nero explained to the court that it hoped to do so by exposing the factory’s work and generating bad publicity for its owners, US firm Excelis.
It became clear the hearings were likely to overrun when the participants learned it would be heard by magistrates, rather than by the district judge who had held a preliminary hearing and considered applications and arguments from both sides.
Both defence barristers and the prosecutor asked for the case to be held another time.
But the magistrates insisted on hearing the case because it had already taken so long to get to court. A previous attempt to stage a trial had been called off.
Mr Privett told the advocates: “I’m sorry we’re such a disappointment to you all, being humble magistrates.
“This case has gone on far longer than most cases ever do.”
Defence barristers Pamela Rose and Victoria Kerly requested about 40 documents from the prosecution.
They were refused permission to have export licences and documents relating to the Cluster Munitions (Prohibition) Act 2012 brought to the court.
Nevertheless, Tuesday was entirely lost to legal argument about which documents the defence should be allowed to see.
Evidence requests They also made several requests for evidence from police, like notebooks and CCTV, which the prosecution said did not contain any evidence relevant to the case.
One of the main legal questions of the next day’s proceedings revolved around a legal precedent from a case involving Nero herself.
Brian Noel, prosecuting, sought to argue that the legal precedent from the Nero case meant the court should not have to hear about the legality of the company’s work.
But Miss Kerly, defending Nero, told the magistrates the activity of the company was the activity being disrupted.
Pamela Rose, defending Pidwell, frequently found herself in sharp exchanges with Mr Noel, the court clerks and the bench.
At one point she referred to Mr Noel in open court and said: “I don’t know why he's behaving like this. Maybe he should have five minutes to calm down.”
When Mr Privett intervened, she told him: “You have been behaving like this to me since yesterday.”
When it became clear the case would over-run and another day would have to be scheduled it turned out no date could be found before the end of October when all the magistrates and advocates could attend.
Eventually August 23 was settled on – after a discussion of the need for Miss Rose to cancel a trip abroad to visit her niece and celebrate her brother’s birthday.
Working time lost
When the case proper was heard, EDO’s managing director Paul Hills said that 100 hours’ work had been lost to the factory because people could not get in and out while the protest was taking place.
It emerged Nero had originally been arrested on suspicion of criminal damage because when she was unglued from the gate some paint came off on her hand. And Mr Hills – who had waited through most of Tuesday without being called to the stand – was quizzed at length by both defence barristers about his company’s work.
From here on, the acronyms FRCS, JSOW, ZRFAU and CM(P)A were frequently heard – often to the confusion of the court clerk taking notes of the evidence, the witnesses and the barristers themselves.
For the lay reader, those letters refer to “field replaceable cable systems”, manufactured by EDO to aid the guiding of bombs, a “joint stand-off weapon” that protesters claim is a cluster bomb, a “zero retention force arming unit” which the company has the right to manufacture (but, as Mr Hills said, “It doesn’t mean we have ever manufactured those items”) and the Cluster Munitions (Prohibition) Act 2010, which the campaigners say outlaws some of the company’s work.
Other technicalities included the differences between sub munitions and cluster bombs and F16 and F35 warplanes.
Application refused Evidence from police about the events of April 26 lasted only about 45 minutes when it was finally heard on Thursday. Four police officers were called. The most senior, Inspector Brian McCarthy, had been waiting from 10am to 4pm on Wednesday to be called as a witness, before being released by the court and asked to come back the next day.
After the prosecution case closed on Thursday morning, the magistrates refused a defence application that there was no case to answer.
They then heard at length from Nero about her work as a freelance researcher into companies working in the Israeli-occupied areas of Palestine, and her involvement with Corporate Watch and Smash EDO.
This led to an explanation of her beliefs about the use of parts made by EDO in cluster bombs.
She said: ''It is obvious to me that if the company makes components that are compatible with cluster munitions and have made promotional materials that explicitly state they are compatible with those munitions and have exported them to a country that has explicitly stated that cluster munitions are an essential munition in their arsenal, on the kind of aircraft they export to, it would make no sense to me for Amer ica to buy those from EDO if they were told they could not use them for this essential part of their arsenal.”
Pidwell’s evidence dealt with similar issues. He told Mr Noel he did not believe that EDO had operated within the terms of the Cluster Munitions (Prohibition) Act.
The magistrates are due to hear closing arguments from both defending barristers and Mr Noel on August 23, before considering a verdict. Mr Privett said: “We will clearly need after so much evidence a couple of hours at least.”
Both said that the purpose of locking and gluing themselves to the factory gates was to generate media coverage.
Mr Pidwell said: “A weekly noise demonstration is not going to get in The Argus. If you attach yourself to the gate it is not going to prevent the factory operating, but it will get in The Argus.”
The protest itself led to eight paragraphs’ coverage in The Argus the following day.
The case continues.