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Courts Judge acquits protesters who blocked road to DSEI arms fair

Sam Tobin reports from Stratford magistrates’ court

FOUR peaceful protesters who blocked a road leading to the DSEI arms fair in east London last September have been acquitted.

Christopher Cole, 54, Henrietta Cullinan, 56, Joanna Frew, 38, and Nora Ziegler, 28, were all cleared of one count of wilfully obstructing a highway after district Judge Angus Hamilton found that their actions were “reasonable” and protected by their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

All four were arrested on September 5 for having obstructed Eastern Gateway, east London, by connecting themselves with lockboxes, designed to be “hard to disassemble,” in order to turn the road into a place of prayer.

Mr Hamilton said that the “only issue in dispute” was whether their obstruction had been “reasonable,” given that the defendants had admitted intentionally blocking the road.

Stratford magistrates’ court heard that all four were “strongly opposed to the arms fair” and aimed to both draw attention to the event and to disrupt it.

In evidence, Ms Cullinan said she hoped the protest would lead people to “acknowledge the depravity of the arms trade.”

Mr Cole said he had written “thousands of words” to MPs and others and had taken part in public meetings, “but the arms fair just goes on.”

The judge said the demonstration was “the very epitome of a peaceful protest,” adding that the defendants’ actions “clearly related to a matter of general concern … namely the legitimacy of the arms fair and whether it involved the marketing and sale of potentially unlawful items.”

He also noted that there had been no complaint about the protest and that the police response appears to have been “entirely on their own initiative.”

Dismissing the charges to cheers from a packed public gallery, Mr Hamilton said the defendants’ actions “do attract the protection afforded by article 10 and 11 rights … despite amounting to obstruction of the highway.”

But he added that his decision “cannot and does not form any form of precedent” for similar cases that are due to be heard.

Raj Chada, who represented Ms Ziegler, said: “On the day after the actions of the suffragettes were lauded, it is apt that today’s generation of direct action protesters do not have to wait 100 years to be vindicated.”

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