Britons charged over 'Star Wars' protest

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The Independent Online

Three Britons face the prospect of long stretches in United States prisons after being charged with disrupting the first Star Wars missile test.

The trio, which includes Steve Morgan, a former photographer for The Independent, were among 15 activists from Germany, India, Sweden, Australia, Spain and Canada who trespassed at the Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, below the path of a test interceptor missile.

Mr Morgan, 45, from Somerset, Bill Nandris, 32, an assistant warehouse manager for Greenpeace, from north London, and John Wills, 27, of Guernsey, appeared in a Los Angeles court in shackles charged with conspiring to violate a safety zone and violating an order.

The first charge carries a maximum 10-year jail sentence and $250,000 fine, and the second a one-year term. They have surrendered their passports and expect to be released on $20,000 bail with a condition they remain in California.

Swimmers on boogie boards went ashore at the base on Saturday night, while three boats and a Greenpeace helicopter breached an exclusion zone.

A fourth Briton, Alice Leney, has been arrested and detained on the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean, from where the dummy warhead used in the test was fired. Greenpeace reacted angrily to the charges, claiming they were indicative of President George Bush's "dictatorial approach to aggressively implement Star Wars".

Mr Morgan's wife, Heather, was last night "shell-shocked" by the arrest of her husband, who had been commissioned as a freelance photographer by Greenpeace. "You might have imagined this in the pre-glasnost Soviet Union or in China, but in America?" she said.