Methodist minister and Quaker arrested for trying to disarm warplanes

By staff writers
January 30, 2017

Two Christians have been released on bail following their arrest at an arms company site in Lancashire. The Rev Daniel Woodhouse, a Methodist minister, and Sam Walton, a Quaker, were arrested at BAE Warton yesterday (29 January 2017) while attempting to disarm warplanes bound for Saudi Arabia. 

The arrest comes only days after the conviction of five other Christian peace activists for their part in direct action, and a week ahead of a major court case concerned with the legality of UK arms sales to the Saudi regime. 

The pair were tackled by security while only metres away from fighter planes in the early hours of Sunday morning. They were released on bail on Sunday night, pending charges. 

Their actions have been welcomed by groups including the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and the Peace Pledge Union (PPU). 

The incident occurred as a panel of UN experts warned that the devastating Saudi-led air strikes in Yemen, which have caused a humanitarian catastrophe, may be part of “a broader policy of attrition against civilian infrastructure”, which may “amount to war crimes.” 

The UK government has licensed over £3.3 billion worth of arms to Saudi forces since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015.

After their release, Woodhouse and Walton explained, “BAE security found us just metres from war planes bound for Saudi Arabia. We’re gutted that we couldn’t disarm a plane and stop it being used to carry out airstrikes in Yemen. We could have saved lives by preventing Saudi war crimes in Yemen.”

The statement from the two Christian activists continued, “The UK government has blood on its hands and we need to do everything we can to stop the transfer of weapons and show these sales are illegitimate. By providing weapons and support Britain is deeply complicit in Saudi war crimes and it’s vital that we bring an end to this immoral, abhorrent trade.”

Their action came 21 years to the day after after three women entered the same base and disarmed a jet bound for Indonesia. The women were later cleared of all charges by a jury who heard in detail of how they were seeking to prevent civilian deaths. 

Last week, five other Christians – Nina Carter-Brown, Nick Cooper, Angela Ditchfield, Joanna Frew and Alison Parker - were convicted of "wilful obstruction of the highway" after blockading an entrance to the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Berkshire. 

The Peace Pledge Union (PPU), which includes pacifists of several religions and none, today welcomed the apparent rise in nonviolent direct action against war. 

"This action is a reminder that pacifism is not passive", said the PPU's Symon Hill. "We reject both violence and passivity in favour of nonviolent resistance to war and militarism". 

Hill added, “The Peace Pledge Union, which includes members of several religions and none, applauds Sam and Dan's actions. Speaking in a personal capacity as a Christian, I believe this is the sort of thing that Christians should be known for: exemplifying the active nonviolence at the heart of Jesus' life and message.”

The UK government has confirmed that UK-licensed Typhoon and Tornado aircraft have been deployed by the Saudi Airforce on combat missions in the Yemen campaign. In recent months, BAE has announced negotiations to secure further arms deals with the Saudi regime, despite a High Court challenge to the legality of arms sales mounted by CAAT. 

The Judicial Review claim, due to be held from  7 to 9 February 2017, calls on the government to suspend all extant licences and stop issuing further arms export licences to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen .

“We are always hearing about the UK government’s commitment to human rights and democracy, but almost every time that commitment is tested it is exposed as a hollow charade,” said Andrew Smith of CAAT. “If Theresa May and her colleagues care about those suffering in Yemen then they must end the arms sales and their uncritical political support for the Saudi regime.”

[Ekk/1]

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.