Rioting at an anti-arms trade protest on Wednesday shocked Brighton and Hove.

The confrontation between activists and police came after five years of demonstrations against EDO MBM Technology in Moulsecoomb.

Ben Parsons reports on the history of a campaign to run the firm out of the city.

In 2004 about 20 anti-arms demonstrators paid their first visit to EDO MBM Technology Ltd.

The factory was closed down by an occupation in which some protesters spent nearly 20 hours on the roof.

Ever since, protesters from Smash EDO, as the movement became known, have played a cat-and-mouse game with police in courtrooms and on the streets as they pursue their aim of forcing the company to leave Brighton and Hove.

This culminated in an afternoon of clashes on Wednesday as hundreds of demonstrators forced their way through police lines at the factory gates. It turned out to be the biggest protest in the campaign's history.

Cars and windows were vandalised which led the use of batons, pepper spray and dogs to disperse the crowds and make arrests.

Wednesday's scenes at EDO's main site at Home Farm Road in Moulsecoomb divided opinions across the city.

To some, Smash EDO is part of a long tradition or peaceful protests, a successful campaign for a noble cause.

To others, it is an example of how a small but vocal minority with a sinister fringe element can threaten the working life of a city.

The campaign has its roots in the wave of popular protest against the Iraq war in 2003.

About 5,000 people marched in Brighton the day war broke out, and many more joined the million who demonstrated on the streets of London.

In late 2003 anti-war protesters discovered links between the conflict and the city.

EDO MBM, which employs about 160 people at its Moulsecoomb plant, makes components for weapons systems.

Campaigners seized on revelations that the factory and the firm's other site in Fishersgate produced parts used in military operations in Iraq and other Middle East conflicts.

News of the firm's takeover at the end of last year by US giant the ITT Corporation - which has been accused of trading with Nazi Germany and the 1970s dictatorship in Chile - only served to fuel the protesters' moral outrage.

Over the years they have carried out a range of stunts designed to embarrass the company and gain publicity.

Activists have dressed as weapons inspectors, posed as bloody corpses while lying down in the street, paraded coffins and read out accounts of bombing raids by Iraqi survivors.

One tactic has been "bad karaoke" performances - singing as badly as possible to disturb workers inside.

A hard core of protesters has kept up the pressure with weekly demonstration at the plant for the last four years Police are regularly called to remove activists who have locked or glued themselves to the factory gates.

These protests had already led to more than 40 arrests by the time of this week's demonstration.

Where charges have been brought against protesters, Smash EDO campaigners have taken the opportunity to try to put EDO itself in the dock.

They have taken every opportunity to challenge the legality of its business activities.

Smash EDO takes every case where charges are dropped or defendants acquitted as a victory and a vindication for its cause.

The group accuses police of colluding with EDO to try to prevent legal, peaceful protests.

In February 2006, charges were dropped against three demonstrators after a judge ruled police must disclose internal documents about the operation during which they were arrested.

In March, the group claimed the case against four campaigners was dropped because defence lawyers had requested a notebook from Chief Inspector Peter Mills.

In the same month, a film about the campaign's history, On The Verge, was controversially pulled at the last minute by the Duke of York's cinema at Preston Circus in Brighton after a police officer notified the city council that it did not have the correct certification.

Sussex Police stressed the officer was from elsewhere in the county and the intervention had not been sanctioned by senior officers.

Smash EDO claimed the force was deliberately trying to interfere with its freedom of speech.

It also criticised police support for an attempt by EDO MBM to get a permanent injunction against the protests.

The firm sought an order for demonstrations to be limited to only two and a half hours once a week in groups of ten or less.

A temporary injunction was in place for ten months, but the dispute ended when the firm unexpectedly dropped its case.

Sussex Police, for their part, have declined to enter into tit-for-tat allegations over the way the protests have been conducted.

Their work, however, is not limited to policing demonstrations.

In February, Smash EDO posted a list of companies which work for EDO on its website and urged supporters to put pressure on them to stop dealing with the firm.

Those companies included courier firm DHL in Hove, which by April had been attacked twice in five weeks.

Windows were smashed and buildings daubed with anti-EDO slogans.

Smash EDO denies the damage was part of its campaign.

Chief Superintendent Dick Barton is in charge of investigating crimes against EDO for Sussex Police.

The force declined to comment on his role but the fact such a senior officer - the highest rank below assistant chief constable - has specific responsibility for EDO reflects how seriously police treat the activism.

EDO MBM have consistently refused to make any comment on the campaign.