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Iraq war protesters denied justice, court told

John Aston and Cathy Gordon, PA  News


Opponents of the war in Iraq prosecuted after trespassing on military bases were denied justice, the  High Court was told today.

Those convicted for aggravated trespass were treated unfairly and should not have been found guilty because they were trying  to prevent an "illegal" war, said a QC.

He accused the courts which tried their cases of wrongly blocking their defence and refusing their request for access to Government documents to support their anti-war argument.

The High Court in London was hearing appeals by 14 Greenpeace protesters who were convicted of aggravated trespass while trying to prevent the military build-up to war in February 2003 by occupying tanks at Marchwood military base in Southampton.

A second challenge was brought by Lindis Percy, joint co-ordinator of the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases (CAAB), who protested during the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 at the United States Air  force base at Croughton, Northamptonshire.

She had entered the base and placed an upside down US flag on the gate of the operations compound with the words "War in Iraq - Immoral, illegal, madness" written on it.

A third challenge involved Valerie Swain, also convicted of aggravated trespass and criminal damage after cutting the fence at RAF Fairford, entering the base and causing disruption.

Maurice Mendelson QC, representing the Greenpeace 14, told Lord Justice Waller and Mr Justice Jack that the trial judges had erred in law in all three cases by ruling their "illegal war" defence "non-justiciable" on the grounds that it related to decisions concerning defence and foreign policy.

They had all raised the same defence that the UK Government's support of the US in the Iraq war involved a war crime under the International Criminal Courts Act (ICCA) - and activities at the bases connected with supporting the war were therefore unlawful.

Mr Mendelson said the Crown Prosecution Service now appeared to have backed down over the claim that the "illegal war" defence was "non-justiciable", but was now arguing that the trial judges had reached the right decision for other reasons.

He said: "It is crystal clear that crimes under the ICCA are justiciable in the English courts, whether or not those crimes are committed pursuant to defence or foreign policy."

Lord Justice Waller told the QC that his burden today was to demonstrate that there was an arguable case that personnel at the base had been acting unlawfully.

Mr Mendelson said, in the case of RAF Fairford, it was widely believed at the time that the base was being used to refuel B52 bombers "which were clearly a major instrument of warfare which delivered bombs on Baghdad and elsewhere."

In the case of Croughton, the prosecution was "a  little bit cagey over exactly what was going on there, but there is evidence of a facility there which may well have been assisting in the guidance of US  aircraft in the war".

The demonstrators did not know exactly what was happening at the bases because they had been refused disclosure of documents.

It was for the Crown to prove the negative - that personnel were not aiding and abetting a legal war, argued Mr Mendelson in a hearing expected to last two days.

 

February 2005

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