Judge rules for right to `disarm' nuclear weapons

 

Three anti-nuclear campaigners accused of damaging part of a Trident nuclear submarine installation were yesterday cleared after a judge said the weapons were illegal under international law. The CND activists were accused of attacking a barge and laboratory equipment at Faslane Naval Base near Lochgoilhead, Argyll, Scotland.

A jury at Greenock Sheriff Court were ordered to acquit the women of three charges of maliciously damaging equipment at the base after Sheriff Margaret Gimblett ruled they had a right to "disarm" the base.

There were cheers as the three women, Ms Angela Zelter (48), Ms Ellen Moxley (45), and Ms Bodil Ulla Roder (45), who is Danish, walked free at the end of a 4 1/2-week trial.

They had been held on remand since their arrest on June 8th.

They had boarded a barge which was part of the Trident installation. They had been charged with malicious damage to equipment in an on-board laboratory, which had been thrown overboard into Loch Goil. But yesterday Sheriff Gimblett said she had accepted the argument put forward by their defence advocate, Mr John Mayer. He said that Trident was illegal under international law, and the women were acting simply to prevent a crime.

Mr Mayer said a ruling by the International Court of Justice in 1996 made Trident and all nuclear weapons illegal. This meant the women had committed a crime but were acting to prevent other crimes taking place and so in Scots law should be acquitted.

They had been acting in the same way as someone who disarms a man carrying a knife or gun illegally, a view which Sheriff Gimblett accepted and so directed the jury to clear them of all the charges.

But addressing the women after the jury had delivered a formal verdict, the Sheriff told them they should not regard this as meaning they would be able to carry out such actions recklessly.

"Yesterday I made it clear that the courts do not allow crimes to be committed to prevent other crimes except in very special circumstances.

"There were such circumstances in this particular case and the same circumstances may not apply to anyone who carries out actions similar to those carried out in June. "You do so at your peril - be very careful."

The women are part of an anti-nuclear activist group called Trident Ploughshares 2000, which wants the Scottish Executive to move to ban the weapons from Scotland.

"I hope they can follow the independence of the Scottish judiciary," Ms Zelter said after the verdict, at which all three expressed relief. "I just want to say thank you to everybody," she added.

Yesterday, she and her co-accused told how they had evaded security for 3 1/2 hours at the base after sailing into the loch on a leaky boat, taking time to have a picnic before they were arrested.

"We gave ourselves 10 minutes and got 3 1/2 hours," said Ms Moxley. "The police pretended not to be embarrassed but I'm sure they must have been."

The three activists, who had been held on remand for nearly five months in Cornton Vale women's prison, Stirlingshire, said they would not continue the direct action themselves but would support others who did so. They said they wanted to see a full independent inquiry into the legality of the British nuclear deterrent. "For the last 50 years the British government and judiciary have refused to look at the legal facts," Ms Zelter said.

The Ministry of Defence declined to comment on the ruling until it had studied the sheriff's remarks.

David Shanks adds: The Ploughshares movement had a similar legal victory in July 1996 at Liverpool Crown Court. Four women members, including Ms Zelter, argued successfully that £1.5 million worth of damage they did to a British Aerospace Hawk fighter jet was justified in law as they were preventing British complicity in genocide. The case made legal history. The Hawk was one of a batch due to be delivered to Indonesia for possible use in East Timor.