Hawk attackers aim to prosecute BAe and DTI

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The four women cleared by a jury last month of causing pounds 1.5m damage to one of 24 Hawk jet fighters destined for Indonesia are to bring a private prosecution against British Aerospace and the Department of Trade and Industry.

Angela Zelter, 45, Andrea Needham, 30, Joanna Wilson, 33, and Lotta Kronlid, 28 - who call themselves the Ploughshares Four - want to use the prosecution to stop BAe sending the Hawks to Indonesia. At their trial, they claimed that the jets were used to suppress the people of East Timor.

They hope to persuade up to 5,000 people, including some "well-respected figures", to be "co-informants" and sign the documents for the prosecution.

"We feel that if we can get thousands of people to sign this document, instead of the usual one informant, this will show how much public concern there is," Ms Zelter said yesterday. "It is obviously important to widen the legal challenge so it cannot be misinterpreted as only four women's legal crusade, but rather seen for what it really is - society's conscience."

At the end of their seven-day trial at Liverpool Crown Court, three of the women were cleared of causing criminal damage; the fourth, Ms Zelter, who had planned to accompany them to the factory but did not go, was acquitted of conspiring to cause damage. The three broke into a hangar at the BAe factory at Warton, near Preston, and used hammers, crowbars and other tools to damage the aircraft in 25 places. But the jury found that in damaging the pounds 12m jet, which they feared was being sold to Indonesia, they had used "reasonable force to prevent a crime".

Ms Zelter asked yesterday: "If 10 ordinary citizens in the jury can see the truth quite clearly when presented with only very limited evidence, then surely any impartial court would, if given the opportunity and ample evidence, be able to stop BAe from sending the rest of the Hawks out to Indonesia?"

She fears the private case against the DTI and BAe will not come to court until October. "We're having a problem with the court unlike previous times when we've just made a booking," she said. "They want to see all the documents first. I don't think it's going to happen until October."

The four women belong to the Ploughshares Movement, a Christian peace group founded in the US during the Vietnam war and taking its name from the Old Testament words: "They shall beat their swords into ploughshares." They are among thousands of peace campaigners who have waged a three-and- a-half-year protest against BAe's pounds 500m deal to sell Hawk jets to Indonesia. Amnesty International claims Indonesia has killed 200,000 people in the former Portuguese colony of East Timor since annexing it.

The four hope that the case, to be fought by Vera Baird, their counsel at the Liverpool trial, will highlight how Britain's dealings with Indonesia's President Suharto are in breach of the Geneva Convention.

Ms Zelter said: "Article 146 says that if you get an alleged war criminal in your hands you should do everything to bring them to court in their own country. Our government only shakes hands, smiles at Suharto, takes his money for arms, does deals for his timber, oil and gold, and lets him go.

"It's that kind of hypocrisy we hope to show up. They even pass specific legislation to get 90-year-old Nazi war criminals to trial and they are no longer committing crimes, and yet Suharto is still committing crimes and Britain is aiding and abetting him."

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