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British Quaker 'prepared for jail' after allegedly trying to disarm Saudi Arabia-bound fighter jet

Sam Walton wants to see UK, Saudi Arabia and private weapons manufacturer BAE standing trial for war crimes

Peter Walker
Wednesday 01 February 2017 12:37 GMT
Sam Walton has protested in favour of disarmament since his teen years
Sam Walton has protested in favour of disarmament since his teen years (Sam Walton)

A Quaker activist who was “just metres” from allegedly disarming Saudi Arabia-bound fighter planes with a hammer says he is prepared to spend up to 10 years in prison.

Sam Walton and Methodist reverend Daniel Woodhouse were arrested on Sunday morning after allegedly breaking into the BAE Systems weapons base in Lancashire.

It was the pair’s “last option” in their campaign for the Government to scrap arms sales to Saudi Arabia because of the Gulf state’s bloody involvement in the Yemen civil war.

Sam Walton and Dan Woodhouse, on Blackpool beach, after being released from police custody Sam Walton (Sam Walton)

It comes before a judicial review next week where judges will decide whether to ban Britain’s arms export licences for the oil-rich kingdom.

“We did not want to be arrested, absolutely not, but did we expect to be and were we prepared to be? Absolutely,” said Mr Walton, speaking to The Independent.

“We went in thinking that was a likely outcome, and that we could be sentenced from six months to 10 years if found guilty.

“We have tried every other means of protest that is less chaotic and less damaging and I really don’t want to go to prison but I’m absolutely prepared to in order to save the lives of innocent people.”

The 30-year-old and Mr Woodhouse were arrested on suspicion of criminal damage and are on bail until 27 April when they may face charges.

The pair managed to get beyond fences, closed doors and sensors at the site in Warton, which they claim is home to four Typhoon jets and eight Hawks.

The former Wimbledon schoolboy and Nottingham University graduate said: “We were arrested just metres away from where planes bound for Saudi were and we were very disappointed that we couldn’t disarm a plane going toward eastern war crimes and almost certainly have saved lives.”

Boris Johnson: Saudi Arabia is playing proxy wars

Symbolically, the pair entered the base precisely 21 years after four women – known as the Ploughshare Four – caused more than £1.5m in damage to a Hawk warplane at the same site.

The Hawk was destined for Indonesia where the women argued it would likely be used to kill civilians in East Timor.

The foursome were found not guilty of criminal damage at a Liverpool Crown Court after a jury deemed their action was reasonable under the Genocide Act.

In a concerted nod to continuity, Mr Walton says the duo carried one of the hammers used by the women that he borrowed, which has since been confiscated by police.

“We didn’t take the steps lightly but we really didn’t have any other option left,” said Mr Walton, who has written to MPs and demonstrated in disarmament protests since he was 15.

“Selling arms to Saudi Arabia is a crime against humanity.”

Mr Walton, who says he does not have any criminal convictions, said: “Every time that this case is talked about, Saudi Arabia, Britain and BAE don’t like it. It won’t be us who are on trial, it will be them on trial and Saudi Arabia’s actions in Yemen.”

Mr Walton also participated in a demonstration against the execution of three Shia Muslim men, convicted of killing an Emirati police officer, outside the Bahrain embassy earlier this month.

The UN Panel of Experts, the European Parliament and various humanitarian NGOs have condemned the on-going Saudi air strikes on Yemeni rebel areas.

The UN panel last year accused Saudi of “widespread and systematic” attacks on civilian targets.

The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) will take its legal challenge, of British arms licences for Saudi Arabia, to the High Court in London on 7, 8, and 10 February.

CAAT claims the UK has licensed over £3.3bn worth of arms to Saudi Arabia since the bombing began in March 2015.

It claims this includes £2.2bn on aircraft, helicopters and drones, £1.1bn on grenades, bombs, missiles and countermeasures, and £430,000 in armoured vehicles and tanks.

The Saudi government has admitted it has used UK-manufactured cluster bombs against Houthi rebels, while Britain’s foreign office admits that UK typhoons have been used in Yemen.

The war has displaced an estimated 2.5m people and killed more than 10,000.

Andrew Smith, from CAAT, said: “For almost two years, Saudi Arabia has been using UK fighter jets in its bombing campaign in Yemen. The results have been catastrophic. Thousands have been killed and vital infrastructure has been destroyed.

“Sam and Dan took fully justified action against the UK’s complicity in the devastation. How can it be justice when they are facing charges while BAE Systems is making billions of pounds from shifting its deadly weapons to Saudi Arabia, one of the most brutal and oppressive regimes in the world, while it bombs one of the poorest countries in the region?

“If the Government cares about the rights and lives of Yemeni people then it must do what Sam and Dan tried to do, and stop the arms sales.”

A BAE spokesman said: “The incident at our site in Warton is being investigated by Lancashire Police and we are assisting them with their enquiries.”

A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesman said: “The UK is not a member of the Saudi Arabian-led Coalition, but we do support the Saudi Arabian-led Coalition military intervention, which came at the request of legitimate President Hadi.

“The UK and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have a long history of defence cooperation. The UK Government takes its arms export licensing responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world. The key test for our continued arms exports to Saudi Arabia in relation to international humanitarian law (IHL) is whether there is a clear risk that those items subject to the licence might be used in a serious violation of IHL. The situation is kept under careful and continual review.

“Through UK aid to Yemen, last year the UK helped treat over 150,000 children under five for severe acute malnutrition and screen 140,000 children for childhood infections. We also helped support and refer displaced children and enabled 3,500 refugee children and Yemeni children from their host communities to resume education. We continue to urge all parties to the conflict to take all reasonable steps to allow and facilitate rapid and safe humanitarian access, and to take all feasible precautions to avoid harming civilians and civilian infrastructure.”

The Independent has contacted the House of Saud for comment.

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