Hell on Earth

Two activists accused of conspiring to cause some £200,000-worth of damage to a weapons factory were cleared today on the judge’s direction. Five more were cleared earlier this week and one was found not guilty on the directions of the judge, George Bathurst Norman.

Christopher Osmond, 30, Elijah Smith, 42, and six other anti-war campaigners admitted they broke into the Brighton headquarters of EDO MBM in the early hours of January 17 last year, sabotaging equipment worth in the region of £200,000.

During their three-week trial at Hove Crown Court it was said they were acting with “lawful excuse” to prevent further alleged war crimes being committed by Israel against Gaza.

Section 5(2)(b) of the Criminal Damage Act 1971 defines “lawful excuse” to include protecting property. This is clearly designed for the sort of case where a fire-fighter breaks into a building to put out a fire.

Today Osmond, from Brighton, East Sussex, and Smith, from Bristol, were acquitted of conspiracy to cause criminal damage on the directions of the judge.

Earlier this week Simon Levin, 35, from Brighton, Tom Woodhead, 25, Ornella Saibene, 50, Bob Nicholls, 52, and Harvey Tadman, 44, all from Bristol, were cleared of the same charge.

Another defendant, Rosa Bellamy, 23, from Brighton, was cleared part-way through the trial on the directions of the judge who ruled the prosecution had not proved its case against her.

Outside court, campaigners said that they believed EDO MBM was breaking export regulations by manufacturing and selling to the Israelis military equipment which would be used in the occupied territories.

The case is discussed in an excellent blog today by Melanie Phillips. For the benefit of new readers (and some older ones) I should explain that Melanie Phillips is my wife. Indeed, I am married to her. And she is married to me. I hope that clears up any ambiguity in our relationship. But just in case, perhaps I should characterise it as one of matrimony. It derives from a ceremony of marriage. At a wedding. Anyone who still thinks I have failed to declare an interest should add a comment below.

In this excellent blog, Melanie Phillips (still my wife) says that what really jumps out from the Guardian report yesterday is a remark by the judge:

In his summing up, Judge George Bathurst Norman suggested to the jury that “you may well think that hell on earth would not be an understatement of what the Gazans suffered in that time”.

You can read what Melanie (to whom I am married) thinks of this remark. For my part, I can’t believe an English judge would make a remark like that. I wouldn’t suggest he had been misquoted by a newspaper for which I now write.

But please, judge, tell me you have been quoted out of context. Please say you it’s not true that, to quote Melanie Phillips (my wife), you directed

a jury to acquit people of criminally smashing up a factory, because [you] chose to believe Hamas propaganda about the suffering of people in Gaza during a war about which [you] presumably [have] no knowledge whatever apart from what [you have] read or seen in the media – a war, moreover, launched solely to prevent Gazans from aggressively firing rockets into Israel in order to murder its civilians, during the course of which war Israel went to heroic lengths to avoid hurting Gazan civilians who were being put in harm’s way by Hamas, the true cause of Gaza’s “hell on earth”.

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