There were scenes of jubilation this afternoon, as five Christian peace protesters were acquitted of 'aggravated trespass' at Stratford Magistrates Court.
The charges against them related to an incident in September 2013, when the five (writer, activist and Ekklesia ssociate Symon Hill, Dan Woodhouse, a trainee minister in the Methodist Church, PhD student Chloe Skinner, caterer Chris Wood and teacher James Clayton) blockaded the London arms fair (DSEi) for an hour by praying, singing hymns and reciting scripture.
It was the video evidence supplied by the police for purposes of prosecution which helped the five win the case, ironically. They had not received clear instructions as to what to do when they left the Excel ground, it was decided.
The defendants have made the case throughout that they were exercising conscience, seeking to prevent killing, and drawing attention to both the illegal sale of torture equipment and the routine supply of the tools of repression by the multi-billion pound arms industry.
At one point in the trial the police said that Symon Hill was "shouting in a religious manner" at the protest. He was, in fact, reciting the famous 23rd Psalm ('The Lord is my Shepherd') at a volume necessary to be heard in public while being arrested.
None of the defendants had any previous criminal records and they all entered pleas of Not Guilty to the court. They faced up to three months' imprisonment and fines for their action if they had been convicted.
By comparison, on the same day as the five kneeled to pray and protest at the arms fair back in September, two companies were thrown out of the exhibition for displaying illegal torture equipment. However, they were removed only after their illegality was raised by an MP in Parliament. Their staff and managers were neither arrested nor charged with any crime. Instead, police arrested and charged peaceful protesters.
Campaigners said tonight that the court verdict was another important landmark in resistance to the international arms trade, and in particular to the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEi) exhibition – which is a shop window for weapons being supplied to authoritarian regimes and dictators world wide. Opponents want it closed down and the involvement of the UK government ended.
The five Christian peace campaigners, who expressed gratitude from both religious and non-religious supporters, secured backing for their cause and for action on the are trade from former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, Green MP Caroline Lucas, Occupy, the United Reformed Church and the World Methodist Council, as well as many Christian and civic peace and justice NGOs.
More to follow.
* Arms trade trial raises key issues about the industry, churches and protest: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/20084
* More from Ekklesia on protests against the London Arms Fair: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/tags/8731