Four women walked free from Liverpool Crown Court yesterday after a jury found them not guilty of criminal charges despite their admission that they did more than pounds 1.5m worth of damage to a Hawk warplane.
The jubilant women had admitted sabotaging the recently built multi-purpose Hawk last January at the British Aerospace plant at Warton, near Preston, for despatch to the Indonesian airforce as part of a series of multi- million pound arms deals with the regime of General Suharto. But the jury accepted the argument of Angie Zelter, 45, Joanna Wilson, 33, Lotta Kronlid, 28, and Andrea Needham, 30 - going under the name the Ploughshare Four - that their action was reasonable under the Genocide Act.
The jury of seven men and five women took just over five hours to reach their verdicts. During the seven-day trial the court heard Wilson, Needham and Kronlid cut through the seven-mile perimeter fence at the BAe plant in the early hours of January 29 this year.
They broke into hangar 358 and used hammers to damage the plane in 25 places. All four claimed their actions were justified because the Hawk was destined for Indonesia, where it would be used against the civilians of East Timor.
Only Wilson, a former Merseyside councillor, was represented by a barristerThe women claimed they had lawful excuse to disarm the Hawk because they were using reasonable force to prevent a crime. During the trial a 15-minute video which the three women left in the cockpit of the damaged plane was shown to the jury. In it, the women explained their motivation.
They said they had good reason to fear that British built warplanes were to be used as part of Indonesia's genocide of the people of East Timor.
Amnesty International has estimated that some 200,000 Timorese out of a total population of 600,000 have died under Indonesian rule in the past two decades, a rule which has been winked at by western powers.
Britain, the United States, Germany and other suppliers of arms to General Suharto, who seized power in 1965, have traded uninterruptedly with Indonesia despite the fact that a number of British, Australian and other foreign journalists were killed as they reported the Indonesian invasion of 1975.
The court in Liverpool was told of a report in the Independent on Sunday in November of last year written by this correspondent from Dili, the capital of East Timor, which told of two Hawks flying low over the city in a bid to intimidate its inhabitants and halt protests against the occupation.
The four women successfully argued that they had exhausted all other means of halting British action in support of Indonesia's act of genocide before they undertook their action at Warton which they themselves announced to the factory security staff and responsibility for which they freely and publicly embraced.
In her closing speech, Mrs Baird said what the four did was not a publicity stunt, as claimed by the prosecution, but an act of the last resort by women of principle.
David Pickup, prosecuting, said the women's "genuine and sincere" beliefs were irrelevant to the issues in the case.
In a statement after the verdict BAe said its arms deals with Indonesia had been contracted in conformity with guidelines laid down by the Government: "The company confirms that it operates in accordance with export licences granted by HM Government. In addition, BAe has no evidence that Hawk aircraft are being used in a manner contrary to assurances provided by the Indonesian government to the British government."
The judgment, which will have repercussions in international jurisprudence and diplomacy, comes at a particularly delicate time for General Suharto who is facing large scale rioting in his capital, Jakarta, after his forces attacked the opposition headquarters and its leader Megawati Sukarnoputra, daughter of the country's founding father, President Sukarno, who led the anti-colonialist struggle in what had been the Dutch East Indies after the Second World War.
Figure of hate, page 9
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