Comedian cleared of criminal damage derides 'preposterous' case against him

Mark Thomas, Channel 4's activist comedian, attacked the decision to bring a court case against him as "preposterous" yesterday, after he was cleared of damaging a mini-van during an anti-arms protest.

Mark Thomas, Channel 4's activist comedian, attacked the decision to bring a court case against him as "preposterous" yesterday, after he was cleared of damaging a mini-van during an anti-arms protest.

At the end of a two-day trial, Mr Thomas and three fellow protesters were found not guilty of two counts of causing criminal damage to the bus, which was taking BAE Systems workers to an arms fair in Docklands, London.

The prosecution had alleged that the men had scratched the roll bar when they chained themselves to the vehicle on 12 September in an attempt to prevent the delegates attending the Defence Systems and Equipment International weapons fair. The prosecution estimated that the men caused £80 of damage. But Stratford magistrates in east London said it could not be proved that Mr Thomas and his colleagues had caused the alleged damage. The court agreed with an independent expert witness, called by the defence, that the roll bar had not been damaged to the extent suggested by a police vehicle examiner.

The three magistrates added that there was no evidence that the owner of the bus had suffered economic loss as a result of the protest.

Speaking outside the court, Mr Thomas said: "Obviously, I'm glad that we were found not guilty. It's fairly preposterous that they spent this money to try to bring a case where there was no damage. I think what they wanted to do was to bring as many cases against the arms protesters as possible. I think we just got caught up in that.

"It's the arms dealers who should be prosecuted,'' added Mr Thomas, who has long targeted the international arms trade in his Channel 4 television show The Mark Thomas Comedy Product.

"The arms fair sells huge amounts of weapons specifically designed to take human life,'' he added, explaining why he and his colleagues, Bobby Kool Von Kleef, Steve Selby and Salvatore Bartolomei, staged the protest.

Andrew Catson, the solicitor representing the four men, said: "I think it's outrageous that this case was ever brought."

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