On 22nd December after a trial lasting six weeks, and at the end of more than a week of jury deliberation, eight Palestine Action activists walked out of Snaresbrook Court with just one guilty verdict for criminal damage.
Indictments against the eight included encouragement to commit criminal damage, several counts of burglary and many counts of criminal damage. Other charges, including conspiracy and blackmail, were dropped before the trial began.
Palestine Action activists’ aims and motivations were to try and disrupt and close down a company which was directly contributing to the surveillance, repression and killings of civilians and resisters by a criminally apartheid state in illegally-occupied Palestine. Had they been tried soon after arrest, they would have been able to express these motivations and rely on a defence of acting to prevent a greater harm, as well as human rights considerations of proportionality. After several well-publicised jury acquittals of climate and arms protesters, government legal appeals have had the effect of ruling out these defences (especially after legal rulings in the cases of Ziegler and Colston Four).
Real Media has extensively reported on recent trials where judges have ruled defendants simply have had no legal defence for their actions, and on the growing Defend Our Juries campaign to counter this.
The judge in this trial did allow one defence – that of ‘belief in consent’. This opens up the possibility of explaining to a jury some relevant aspects of the climate crisis or the outcome of weapons sales. If the defendants can show that they genuinely believed that had the owners of a building known ALL the circumstances surrounding an act of criminal damage or suchlike, they WOULD have given their permission.
This one remaining legal defence has resulted in some high-profile successes, including the acquittal of five Palestine Action activists at Southwark Crown Court in November 2022, the unanimous acquittal of Extinction Rebellion protesters in October 2023 despite spraying red paint at the Treasury from a converted fire engine, and a not guilty verdict for nine XR women who smashed the windows of HSBC’s Canary Wharf headquarters. Two Palestine Action activists who sprayed red paint on the Balfour statue inside Parliament were also acquitted by a Southwark jury in December.
During the Elbit Eight trial, defendants were able to explain their belief that had the owners and managers of Elbit’s London office known what was enabled there, they would have given permission for the protests there, and had the owners of the Shenstone UAV Engines factory known how the products were used against civilians, likewise.
After nearly five weeks of legal arguments, evidence and final statements, the jury didn’t take long to let two activists walk free with early unanimous acquittals. The following day by a majority decision Palestine Action co-founder Richard Barnard was found guilty of criminal damage, relating to an action against Elbit’s Ferranti factory in Oldham, which has since been abandoned by Israeli arms manufacturer Elbit.
By the end of the sixth week and on the Friday before the Christmas break, the jurors indicated there was no prospect of agreement over the remaining 23 charges and the judge called an end to the proceedings, leaving the Crown Prosecution Service to decide whether to retry the remaining #ElbitSix. A decision is expected later this month.
All the charges in this case relate to the first few months of Palestine Action’s activities, which was extensively reported by Real Media at the time and in our first-year documentary.
Sustained actions at Kingsway appear to have forced its abandonment with Elbit headquarters operations being moved to Bristol. In the last month, Elbit’s job recruitment agency iO Associates confirmed they had dropped their client, an Elbit site property manager Fisher German cut ties with them, and Elbit’s web design company Naked Creativity have also stopped working with them.
Last summer, after several convictions and prison sentences against Palestine Action activists, the network announced a splinter movement called Palestine Action Underground, formed to target companies associated with Elbit, with covert actions to disrupt supply chains and isolate the company. The new movement is supported by groups across Europe and the United States.
RealMedia previously reported on the apparent Israeli influence on the UK legal system with particular reference to protests in solidarity with Palestine. Could it be merely coincidental that during the very week that this jury appeared unwilling to convict the remaining activists, the Attorney General announced a further review of the ‘belief in consent’ defence?