‘Torture gear’ brochures at world’s largest weaponry fair backfire


Anti-arms trade campaigners have launched an unprecedented private prosecution against two defence companies for allegedly marketing torture equipment at the world’s largest weaponry fair in London.

Lawyers said that the rare private proceedings were being mounted because state bodies had failed to act on allegations that laws banning the export of illegal weaponry were broken at the biennial Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) exhibition in London’s Docklands last year.

French company Magforce International and a Chinese exhibitor, Tianjin Myway International, were ejected from the event after brochures, seen by The Independent, were found to contain products including leg restraints and electronic stun batons. Despite details on the companies being passed to investigators at HM Revenue & Customs six months ago, no charges were brought prior to the expiry of a prosecution deadline earlier this month.

Raj Chada, of law firm Hodge Jones & Allen, who is leading the prosecution, said: “This is a ground-breaking initiative by our clients who are sick and tired of the world’s arms dealers congregating in London every two years and no action being taken. It is disgraceful no one has bothered to respond to our requests and enough is enough. Companies will be forced to appear in court and are at risk of criminal convictions.”

It is alleged the items being marketed by the two companies were “Category A” goods under Britain’s Export Control Order 2008, which effectively bans the sale and promotion of items such as fetters and stun weapons because of their potential use in torture.

The Independent revealed the eviction of the companies after Green MP Caroline Lucas raised questions in Parliament about their presence at DSEI, which bills itself as “the world-leading defence and security event” and is attended by 30,000 people including arms-buying delegations from across theworld. Private prosecutions are used by companies or organisations to pursue individuals for offences such as animal cruelty or piracy. But prosecutions on behalf of private individuals are rare.

Following the ejection of the companies last September, Clarion Events, the organiser of DSEI, said it had passed information about the incident to HM Revenue & Customs for further investigation. But the campaigners said despite numerous requests to the authorities to investigate the incident, they received no response and the statute of limitations, after which it would have been impossible to bring a prosecution, was due to expire earlier this month.

District judge Gareth Branston, sitting at Thames Magistrates’ Court in east London this month, authorised the private prosecution and singled out the fact that the CPS had remained silent on whether it was considering its own charges as a key reason for allowing the unusual case to proceed. Mr Chada said he was also writing to the CPS to ask it to take over the prosecution.

HMRC declined to discuss the DSEI case. A spokesman added: “We consider all credible information we receive regarding potential breaches of UK strategic export controls and take action where we find evidence of abuse.”

A CPS spokeswoman said: “This case has never been referred to the CPS by investigators. As with any case, should a file be referred to us we would consider charges in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors.”

Magforce International, based in Aubervilliers, Paris, and Tianjin Myway in Beijing were among 1,500 exhibitors at the DSEI event. Organisers have made repeated undertakings to weed out exhibitors breaking the rules after previous incidents in recent years in which companies were ejected for promoting products such as leg irons and cluster bombs.

The terms and conditions for exhibitors prohibit the marketing of “leg irons, gang chains, shackles” and “electric shock batons… stun guns and electric shock dart guns”.

When sales personnel from both firms facing charges were approached by The Independent at the fair they insisted the items were not offered for sale in Britain. After its expulsion, Magforce told French media it had not thought any products in its catalogue were illegal in Britain, nor had it ever received orders for illegal items.

Each company faces three charges of breaching the Export Control Order 2008, which prohibits marketing “Category A” goods in Britain. If convicted, they face a fine of up to £5,000 per offence. The firms did not respond to requests to comment on the cases against them.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit director Peter Jackson with his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Receptionist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This law firm is seeking a happy, helpful and ...

The Jenrick Group: Production Supervisor

£26000 - £29000 per annum + Holidays & Pension: The Jenrick Group: Production ...

The Jenrick Group: Project Engineer

£33000 - £35000 per annum + Pension and holidays: The Jenrick Group: Project E...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Technician

£35200 per annum + Pension and holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Engine...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'