Police undermine arms dealer's claim of intimidation by activists

By staff writers
May 24, 2010

The director of an arms company has told a court that he felt intimidated by a nonviolent protest that shut down his Nottingham warehouse for a day. But his argument was undermined in court by a police witness.

Heckler & Koch Managing Director, Mike Thornton, said that the protest on 18 February had left him feeling “vulnerable and intimidated”. Four activists chained themselves to the gates before dawn, preventing staff from entering. Another two climbed onto the roof and displayed banners accusing the company of “arming repressive regimes”.

One of the rooftop activists, Kirk Jackson, has now been convicted of “aggravated trespass” for his part in the protest.

But during Jackson's trial, the claims of intimidation became difficult to substantiate after the prosecution's own police witness, Chief Inspector Stephen Haylett, described the protest as “about as good-natured as they get”.

A spokesperson for the campaigners said, “The reams of police video footage played in court showed the defendant wielding nothing more threatening than a cheese and pickle sandwich”.

Jackson was given a twelve month conditional discharge and ordered to pay £350 court costs. The other five activists had already pleaded guilty and been sentenced on 17 March.

Thornton came under pressure himself when he appeared as a witness for the prosecution. When asked if activities at his warehouse include arms manufacture as such, he asked the magistrates “Is it necessary to discuss that?”, before eventually admitting that the unit is used to assemble automatic weapons.

Heckler & Koch has been the target of demonstrations since 2007 when Nottingham residents became aware of the firm's presence on the Lenton Lane industrial estate. But this is the first time that the company has faced direct action.

Campaigners say that Heckler & Koch has a long history of supplying weapons to unstable regions, and using licensed production deals in order to evade arms embargoes.

The offence of aggravated trespass is committed if a person does something while trespassing that is intended to obstruct or disrupt “lawful activity”.

Jackson argued that his only intention in displaying banners on the roof was to create a photo opportunity for the attending media. But the three magistrates accepted the prosecution's argument that he was in a "joint enterprise" with the activists locked to the gates.

The magistrates agreed to the prosecution's request that they be allowed to destroy the banners taken from the campaigners, who described the request as “vindictive”. Peace activists in Germany have now donated replacement banners to the group.

Despite the disappointment of a guilty verdict, Jackson remains positive.

"I'm glad I took the case to trial," he said after leaving court, "Companies like Heckler & Koch are profiting from war and repression with the support of the UK government. The arms industry must be opposed."

In total, the six activists have been left with £825 in fines plus costs. But they insist that this is a fraction of the cost to the company of being closed down for a day. The campaigners say that on an average working day, Heckler & Koch's Nottingham unit exports over £35,000 worth of arms and makes more than £12,500 profit.


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