Ambassador criticises judge in arms factory case

Five pro-Palestinian activists have been acquitted of causing £200,000 worth of damage to a Brighton arms factory, after arguing they were seeking to prevent Israeli “war crimes”.

By Jessica Elgot, July 1, 2010
The activists argued they believed arms made in the factory would be used in Operation Cast Lead

The activists argued they believed arms made in the factory would be used in Operation Cast Lead

Israel's ambassador to Britain, Ron Prosor, has strongly criticised Judge George Bathurst-Norman over the direction he gave to a jury who acquitted five pro-Palestinian activists who broke into an arms factory in Brighton and caused £180,000 worth of damage. The five said they were seeking to prevent war crimes in Gaza.

The activists, Robert Nicholls, 52, Tom Woodhead, 25, Harvey Tadman, 44, Ornella Saibene, 50, all from Bristol, and Simon Levin, 35, from Brighton, argued that they were legally justified breaking into the factory, owned by EDO MBM.

Judge Bathurst-Norman told the Hove Crown Court jury in his summing up: “"You may well think that hell on earth would not be an understatement of what the Gazans suffered in that time".

But the ambassador sharply responded: "After reading the judge's statement, there is no doubt that this is not a great era of the British justice system. I assume that Sderot's children, who have lived under thousands of missiles, for years, will be able to enlighten the judge as to the meaning of 'hell on earth.'

He added:"I am convinced that His Honour would have ruled differently had he been sitting in the Sderot youth cultural centre, rather than on Brighton's sunny shores."

The five defendants admitted they had broken in and sabotaged the factory on the outskirts of Brighton, but argued they were legally justified in doing so.

They said they believed that EDO MBM was breaking export regulations by manufacturing and selling to the Israelis military equipment which would be used by the Israeli army against in the territories. They added that they wanted to slow down the manufacture of these components, and impede what they believed were war crimes being committed by Israel against the Palestinians.

One of the defendants, Robert Nicholls, told the Guardian after being acquitted: "I'm joyful really, at being a free man. The action was impulsive really, we just wanted to do something that would make a real difference to the people of Palestine."

Another, Ornella Saibene, said: "I've felt very peaceful all the way through the trial because I'm proud of what I've done. It was the right thing to do."

According to the Guardian, the group used the "lawful excuse" defence – committing an offence to prevent a more serious crime – as a tactic in their campaigns.

The jury heard that the activists believed EDO MBM was breaking export regulations by selling military equipment to the Israelis.

They videotaped interviews outlining their plans to cause damage to the factory, calling it the ‘Smash EDO’ campaign.

Paul Hills, EDO MBM’s managing director, denied that the company supplied arms components to Israel.

The five were found not guilty of conspiracy to cause criminal damage. Two other defendants, Elijah Smith, 42, and Chris Osmond, 29, of Brighton, are still awaiting a verdict.

Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, testified on behalf of the activists, saying she believed “all democratic paths had been exhausted” and direct action was inevitable.

Last updated: 10:30am, July 2 2010