Roman Catholic activist Chris Cole has been convicted of criminal damage for his nonviolent protest against the London arms fair last year.
Cole, who lives in Oxford, took action on the first day of the fair, known formally as Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEi). He sprayed “DSEi kills” and “Stop the arms trade" at the entrance to the event as arms dealers queued to enter in September 2011.
At Westminster Magistrates' Court on Thursday (31 May), he was fined £500 and ordered to pay £745 in costs and compensation. He had pleaded not guilty, arguing that he was acting to prevent the unlawful activity that was taking place at the arms fair.
"Controls on arms sales have been repeatedly broken,” insisted Cole. “When such controls have been broken, as they were at last year's arms fair and indeed all previous fairs, people have a duty to take action to stop it”.
Oliver Sprague, an arms trade expert from Amnesty International, gave evidence in Cole's defence. He laid out in detail breaches of arms export control laws that had taken place at previous DSEi arms fairs and the breaches that took place at the 2011 fair.
"In my view the breaches of the UK's arms export legistation that took place at DSEi are very serious,” said Sprague during his evidence. “The torture equipment and cluster bombs that were promoted at DSEI 2011, and in previous years, rate alongside WMD [weapons of mass destruction] in their seriousness in terms of current UK law in this area."
Cole has been convicted several times of criminal damage committed in the course of peaceful anti-arms campaigns. The courts recently refused to impose an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) on him, which would have prevented him from travelling in the borough of Westminster.
On several previous occasions, Cole has refused to pay fines and been sentenced to prison. It remains to be seen whether that will happen on this occasion.
The fine was described as “very steep” by Jessie Normaschild of London Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) who attended the trial.
She insisted that the continuing breach of regulations at DSEi was “on a far more significant scale than painting some graffiti, and yet the arms fair gets away with repeat breaches”.
Normaschild added, “Government support for the arms trade is disgusting, especially when they are selling arms at DSEi to governments who actively suppress democratic movements”.
Governments with representatives at last year's DSEi included Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.