Church House calls police to remove anti-arms trade campaigners

By staff writers
July 1, 2015

Three peaceful protesters were today removed by police from Church House in Westminster, London as the building hosted a conference sponsored by arms companies. It is the administrative headquarters of the Church of England.

Emma Anthony, Symon Hill and Sarah Reader were removed as they protested against the second day of the Land Warfare Conference 2015. Organised by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), the event was sponsored by Lockheed Martin, which supplies arms to Bahrain, Egypt and Israel, among many others.

The removal follows a vigil yesterday which saw twenty-one people pray and protest outside Church House as Rev Adam Dickson, a Church of England priest, celebrated Holy Communion (see http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/21843).

Church House has been criticised for hosting arms firm-sponsored conferences for the last three years. Critics say that its managers have failed to engage with them in discussion or to answer their questions. This led them to take direct action.

The three entered Church House and headed towards the room were the conference was taking place. They had walked only a short distance before they were physically restrained by staff. They refused to leave or to resist with violence.

Sarah Reader unfurled a banner reading 'Evict the arms dealers' and began to talk about the arms trade. Symon Hill knelt down and read from Mark’s Gospel the account of Jesus’ protest against exploitation in the Jerusalem Temple.

Eight police officers and three police vehicles arrived to deal with the three activists, who were ejected from the building after around ten minutes.

“I did not take this action lightly”, said Symon Hill after being carried from the building by police. “We have sought to engage Church House on this issue for three years and they have refused to take us seriously. As the authorities at Church House have failed to remove the arms companies from their building, we were left with no choice but to seek to bring an end to the conference ourselves.”

He added, “We were inspired by Jesus’ example of nonviolent direct action against exploitation and religious hypocrisy in the Jerusalem Temple.”

Earlier, the conference was addressed by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon. As he left, he was rushed into his car as demonstrators called out criticisms of the government’s subsidies for the arms industry and declared that the UK’s military budget is the sixth highest in the world.

This afternoon, the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) confirmed that over 2,000 people, including a number of clergy, have signed a petition begun yesterday that calls on Church House not to host conferences sponsored by arms companies.

A similar conference, this time sponsored by the multinational arms firm BAE Systems, will take place at Church House on 15-16 July.

* The petition calling on Church House not to host events sponsored by arms companies can be found at https://www.caat.org.uk/campaigns/arms-trade-out/church-of-england.

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