In the early hours of a cold January morning, we found ourselves hidden away on BAE Systems’ Warton base. There was only a single security door separating us from a fleet of deadly fighter jets. We had managed to access the base by cutting through two fences, and had reached the aircraft hanger undetected.
We knew that the hanger housed BAE Systems’ Eurofighter Typhoon jets, some of which were bound for Saudi Arabia. We had hammers in hand, and were mere moments away from being able to disarm the aircraft. Suddenly, we were apprehended by security guards and taken away to a nearby police station.
Following a series of long interviews and meetings, we were charged with criminal damage. What followed was a gruelling nine-month legal battle, which finally ended yesterday when we were acquitted at the end of a three-day trial at Burnley Magistrates Court.
Motivated by our religious beliefs and our political principles, we stressed that we had never wanted to take the action in the first place. We had felt compelled to do so in order to prevent greater crimes.
And the crimes we believe BAE are complicit in could not be more serious.
Typhoon fighter jets are made in BAE’s Warton base, but their impact is being felt in Yemen, where Saudi forces are using them as part of a brutal two year bombing campaign that has killed thousands of Yemeni people and created one of the worst humanitarian crises in history.
The deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure in Yemen by Saudi Arabia has led to millions of Yemenis being displaced by the conflict. The resulting breakdown in health and sanitation infrastructure has seen the world’s worst cholera outbreak, affecting hundreds of thousands.
To us, and to millions around the UK, the bombardment and the catastrophe that has followed, is a moral abomination. But to BAE it is simply another business opportunity and another chance to sell their deadly weapons.
Even now, at a time when BAE fighter jets are playing such a central role in the devastation, the company is in negotiations with the Saudi military to sell even more warplanes. The Government isn’t doing anything to stop it, on the contrary they are doing all they can to help. As Bob Keen, head of government relations at BAE, told the House of Commons Defence Committee “it simply is not possible to do a major defence deal without fundamental government support.”
The Government will always talk-up the aid it is sending to Yemen, but the total of aid is a drop in the ocean compared to the £4bn worth of aircraft, missiles and bombs that it has licensed to Saudi Arabia since the conflict began.
Over the last few months we have received numerous messages of support, some from activists and some from politicians. But the most humbling messages we have received are those that have come from Yemen.
We have been contacted by people who have seen their country destroyed by war, conflict and UK bombs. It is not our voices that need to be listened to. It is theirs. It is the voices of those that have lost loved ones, those who have lost life-saving medicine, and those who have seen their homes destroyed.
They have told us that UK aid to Yemen is nothing more than an insult, as long as we are arming Saudi Arabia. And they are thankful that we took action, whilst our Government supplies the bombs that are being dropped on their country.
Our acquittal was a vindication of the position we took, and a condemnation of the hypocrisy that lies at the heart of UK foreign policy.
The result was a good day for the peace movement and for social justice. But that doesn’t mean that the issue is over for us. Far from it.
How could it be over while UK arms are central to the destruction of one of the poorest countries in a war-torn region? How could it be over while people in Yemen are enduring the worst ever cholera outbreak on record? And how could it be over when the Defence Secretary is telling parliament to stop criticising the Saudi regime so that he can secure more arms sales?
We have no regrets about the action we took. That is why we were prepared to risk jail for it. Make no mistake, we would do it again in a heartbeat. Our only regret is that we didn’t manage to finish the job.
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