Belfast Crown Court has acquitted nine peace campaigners who were charged with “intent to cause criminal damage” after protesting against an arms company.
The nine women, aged between 35 and 65, were part of a group campaigning against Raytheon, one of the world's largest arms dealers, which has a large base in Northern Ireland. Together with others, they blocked the entrance to Raytheon's property in Londonderry in January 2009. Some then made an attempt to sabotage the company's main computer server.
The group insist that they were committed to behaving nonviolently and were motivated by their concern for the lives of people living in the Gaza strip. Raytheon has been heavily criticised for its trade with the Israeli armed forces.
They add that they voluntarily attended police interviews and were honest about their aims.
It took the jury only an hour to find the nine women not guilty. This followed the earlier acquittal of three other campaigners involved in the same incident.
But two other activists were found guilty of minor miscellaneous charges, including criminal damage for spray-painting a wall belonging to Raytheon. One received a £75 fine while another was given a twelve-month conditional discharge.
Speaking outside court, a spokesperson for the group said, “The verdict represents an acceptance that what we did was not a crime but an attempt to prevent crime, a crime against humanity which continues to be inflicted on the people of Gaza by the Israeli Defence Force”.
Raytheon's Northern Irish site has been the cause of much controversy in recent years. Six people, including the prominent journalist Eamonn McCann, were acquitted of lawbreaking in 2008 following a major protest against the company.
The Irish Network for Nonviolent Action, Training and Education (INNATE) welcomed the latest verdict as “another great victory for Derry Raytheon protesters and for opposition to the arms trade”.