This morning amongst the many other people attending Stratford Magistrates Court will be a small group of campaigners whose failure to move off from the entrance to a trade show in September has resulted in them being charged with aggravated trespass. The five people are known primarily to their own families although Dan Woodhouse is a trainee minister in the Methodist Church, and so will be known to many within the Church. Chloe Skinner is a PhD student and like most students will be known to many other students. Chris Wood is a caterer, James Clayton is a teacher and finally Symon Hill who is a writer and someone who regularly takes part in Sunday Mornings “The Big Questions” show. I understand that these five people will plead that they are not guilty. Clearly they will have their own arguments to make when they are invited to speak to the three magistrates presiding in the Court in Stratford. Legal justice is meant to be fair and the magistrates will undoubtedly apply their judgement to ensure that the outcome of the case is one that you and I would feel is appropriate.
The trade show in September was a prestigious event which is organised with the support and cooperation of our Government, it takes place every two years at the ExCell Exhibition Centre and the website for the 2015 show reports that in September there were 32,169 visitors, an increase of 13% from the previous show in 2011. The show included 1,489 international exhibitors from more than 50 countries and more than 1000 VIPs, in addition to numerous Civil Servants and Government Ministers. The reason why this show was so concerning to our 5 suspected trespassers was that the show is a place where sales are made by companies that manufacture and sell weapons.
The security in place will have been intense (I was at Excell last week and it is well suited as a location to prevent uninvited people from attending) for the safety and security of those attending. Despite this, one of the strange aspects of this case is that on the day these five people were arrested having been suspected of breaking our laws of trespass, some other people were asked to leave DSEI for displaying equipment designed to torture men, women and children. This equipment is illegal and breaks the terms of the show, this is the British Government after all. Despite the scrutiny under which this show was held, the equipment was not identified as being illegal until Caroline Lucas MP attended the show and made a complaint in Parliament. Yet despite this none of those involved in selling these illegal products under the full gaze and scrutiny of our Ministry of Defence and myriad of politically astute visitors were arrested, nor have any companies or even the show organisers been prosecuted. Indeed the DSEI website makes no reference to either todays Court case or indeed their own “embarrassment” that two exhibitors broke the law.
It is important that our legal and policing system follows due process, and that when we break the law, if this is recognised, that appropriate steps are taken and people are prosecuted. However it is also vital that our Laws are applied in an even handed manner. If Stratford Magistrates Court is good enough for Symon and his colleagues, why are MagForce International and Tianjin MyWay International Trading not also being prosecuted for breaking our Laws, or at the least the organiser of the show for allowing illegal weapons to be promoted on their watch. If like me you feel angry about the story above, consider checking out the Put Down The Sword Blog or follow them on twitter @putdownthesword and consider using the #stopdsei hashtag.