Two anti-Israel activists have been found guilty of trespassing at a Brighton arms factory.
In April 2011 Jessica Nero and Gavin Pidwell blocked the gates at the EDO MBM plant, claiming they were protesting against the firm’s production of weapons systems supplied to Israel.
The pair are members of the Smash EDO group, whose activists have repeatedly caused disruption at the factory.
Brighton Magistrates’ Court ordered Nero, 35, and Pidwell, 26, to pay £200 each in costs and gave them conditional discharges for two years.
In a statement after their trial concluded last Thursday, the pair said they were “naturally disappointed” with the verdict, and planned to appeal.
“We are confident that information that emerged during the trial, combined with the existing evidence documenting EDO’s numerous breaches of law, will be enough… to quash our conviction,” they said.
Such decisions turn on a judge’s whim
The arms manufacturing company has denied that it supplies weapons components to Israel.
Five Smash EDO protesters, who broke into the factory and caused £180,000 worth of damage, were acquitted of similar charges in 2010.
That case became notorious following the comments of Judge George Bathurst-Norman. He was formally reprimanded by the Office for Judicial Complaints after telling 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 [during Operation Cast Lead].”
It was thought that the 2010 case had provided a precedent for Smash EDO activists to carry out further such protests using the same “lawful excuse” defence – arguing that they had committed an offence to prevent a more serious crime.
That argument did not prove successful for Nero, of Surrey, and Pidwell, of no fixed abode.
But UK Lawyers for Israel, which works to defend Israeli organisations and interests in British legal actions, warned that the conviction would not set a new precedent.
One senior lawyer highlighted the case of Foreign Office diplomat Rowan Laxton, who was convicted by magistrates of racially aggravated harassment in 2009 following a foul-mouthed anti-Israel rant in a gym. He was cleared on appeal by a Crown Court judge the following year.
“These decisions are always so contingent on the whims of a Crown Court judge,” the lawyer warned.
A UKLFI spokesman welcomed the Nero and Pidwell convictions: “They go a small way towards demonstrating that the courts will not accept criminal behaviour by anti-Israel activists.
“However, these convictions create no precedents and the two defendants received minimal penalties. We remain deeply concerned about the activities of Smash EDO.”