Judge: Brighton anti-Israel raider should get medal

By Jessica Elgot, July 8, 2010
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The judge in the trial of seven activists acquitted of damaging an arms factory suggested that their leader should be awarded the George Cross for his campaign.

The seven were cleared after they successfully claimed they had acted to prevent Israeli "war crimes" when the broke into the Brighton factory on January 17, 2009.

Hailed a great victory by pro-Palestinian activists, the seven from "Smash EDO" were acquitted of causing £180,000 worth of damage to the EDO MBM factory in Brighton - which denied ever having supplied Israel with arms equipment.

In his summing-up speech, in which he attacked both Israel and the United States, Judge George Bathurst-Norman told the Hove Crown Court jury: "You may well think that hell on earth would not be an understatement of what the Gazans suffered at that time."

This case may have disturbing implications

He also said of group leader Christopher Osmond that "The jury may feel his efforts investigating the company merit the George Cross."

Mr Osmond, 30, Elijah Smith, 43, Robert Nicholls, 52, Tom Woodhead, 25, Harvey Tadman, 44, Ornella Saibene, 50, Simon Levin, 35, from Bristol, Brighton and London were all acquitted last week. The verdict was welcomed by Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavillion.

Tony Greenstein, a veteran pro-Palestinian Jewish campaigner in the city, said: "The judge gave a summing up so favourable that some supporters were worried that the jury might react to what they perceived as an attempt to bounce them into a not guilty verdict. We need not have worried."

A court observer, who asked not to be identified, told the JC: "Israel's actions were not the point of the trial - all that mattered was that the protesters genuinely believed in what they were fighting against."

Jewish lawyers and jurists said it was unorthodox for judges to air their political allegiances in court.

London solicitor Jonathan Lux, Board Member of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, said: "This case appears to have disturbing implications and thought will need to be given to what the wider consequences are."

Barrister Oliver Mishcon said: "Judges must be careful about showing support for political causes."

But Professor Graham Zellick QC, the former chair of Leo Baeck College, said the judge was entitled to express his opinion. He said: "It is not what the law, strictly applied, should lead to; but some would argue that it is one of the virtues of the jury system that the strict law can be moderated."

Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor sharply criticised the judge's comments. He said: "This is not a great era for 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.'"

Jon Benjamin, Chief Executive of the Board of Deputies, said: "The acquittal was clearly a result of the skewed narrative around Cast Lead, the judge's comments and the appearance of the local MP, who is known for her anti-Israel bias." The ZF also released a statement calling for the government to censure Judge Bathurst-Norman.

The defence argued that criminal damage is excusable if the damage occurs while trying to prevent greater damage to other properties - in this case, homes in Gaza. But Stephen Shay, prosecuting, argued that the factory was so small that even if it had been supplying Israel, it would have made no difference to the war in Gaza.

    Last updated: 1:39pm, July 8 2010