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Arrested at the arms fair!

Chris Cole under arrest at Custom House station

Chris under arrest at DSEI 2011

On Tuesday September 13th, Kirk Jackson and Chris Cole were arrested for taking part in demonstrations against the world’s largest arms fair – DSEI, which takes place every two years at the ExCeL exhibition centre in East London. In this article, Kirk and Chris talk about their actions, their arrests and what happens next.

What were you arrested for?

Chris: There had been a call-out to meet on the Custom House platform at 10.00am. When I arrived I couldn’t see any other protesters among the crowds of businessmen so I mingled with them and made my way up to the entrance of the arms fair.

There were large glossy display boards all around extolling the virtues of various weapons systems and arms companies. The closer I got to the entrance the heavier the security was getting and it was clear I would not get into the fair itself. I weighed up my options, got out a spray can from my bag and quickly sprayed “DSEI Kills” and “Stop the Arms Trade” on two of the glossy displays before being grabbed by the police and arrested for criminal damage.

I did not however, go quietly. I spoke loudly and clearly to the long line of arms dealers shuffling slowing towards the entrance, urging them to reconsider their actions and speaking about the misery and death their morning’s work would surely bring. All of them avoided eye contact.

Kirk: I was arrested that afternoon taking part in an impromptu die-in at the Custom House entrance to the arms fair. I was in a group of ten people who lay on the ground in front of the security gate as if we were war casualties. Arms dealers had to step over us to get in and out. The police arrived on the scene very quickly and I was arrested because I didn’t move when asked to.

The die-in and Kirk’s arrest

Why did you do it?

Chris: Arms fairs such as DSEI are the public face of the arms trade; the visible tip of the hidden iceberg. Of course, the arms trade likes to pose as a respectable business and so by undertaking non-violent direct action (NVDA) we strip away this pretence. Just as Rosa Parks used the transport system to expose and challenge institutional racism, we need to use the visible aspects of the war machine such as the arms fair, to expose the corruption, injustice and lethality of war, the arms trade and the ideology of ‘might is right’.

Kirk: For me, the DSEI arms fair is the single most disgraceful event that takes place in this country. The fact that businessmen with safe, comfortable lives in this country make lots of money from selling the technology of war and repression to despotic regimes – it makes me very angry. But I had a personal reason too: I’ve long been afraid of what the state might do to me for taking action against the arms trade, and I felt I needed to face that fear.

What happened after your arrest?

Chris: I spent a few hours in the cells and have been charged with criminal damage.

Kirk: I was taken to a police station and charged with aggravated trespass, which is when you’re on private land doing something intended to disrupt or obstruct “lawful activity”. Realising that I wasn’t eligible for Legal Aid, I declined to have a solicitor and gave a “no comment” interview, which is when you answer “no comment” to every question apart from to confirm your name and address. Chris and I were released on a bail condition that forbade us from returning to the arms fair.

Police usher an arms dealer past protesters

Police usher an arms dealer past protesters into an arms trade reception at the National Gallery

How did your court hearing go?

Kirk: I didn’t think it was worth paying for an expensive solicitor for such a minor charge so I contacted the Legal Defence & Monitoring Group (LDMG) which gives free advice and support to activists. On their advice I approached the prosecutor before the hearing and offered to plead guilty if they reduced the charge to Trespass On The Railways. This confused them but after I hinted that I had video evidence that would clear me of aggravated trespass, they agreed.

Having pled guilty I argued for mitigation on the grounds that I’d caused no danger, harm or intimidation and that I had only trespassed for one minute and 13 seconds. The bench accepted this but then fined me £215 anyway – nearly £3 per second just for lying still on the ground! I think I was unlucky to get a rather petty magistrate, but it’s still peanuts compared to heavy sentences recently dished out to anti-cuts protesters.

Chris: After a struggle I managed to plead ‘not guilty’. (The Clerk of the Court argued that I had no case and should simply plead guilty.) At a subsequent hearing I successfully argued that as cluster munitions and torture equipment had been advertised at DSEI, it was in breach of the Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Act 2010, the Export Control (Security and Para-military Goods) Order 2006, and the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The judge gave me permission to bring an expert witness to testify about this at my trial, which is set for January 16th at Westminster Magistrates Court.

Do you intend to pay your fines?

Chris: Still holding out (a little!) hope for a ‘not guilty’ verdict. I have paid fines but try not to as I feel that it is co-operating with the criminalisation of non-violent peacemaking. Earlier this year I was sentenced to thirty days imprisonment for non-payment of a fine arising from a protest at the DSEI arms fair in 2009.

Kirk: I thought long and hard about this. I have huge respect for Chris for refusing to pay fines. In the end though, I coughed up because I didn’t want it hanging over me and I didn’t want bailiffs bothering my housemates. It felt very galling, paying the state for stopping my protest.

Would you do the same again?

Kirk: I’m sure it’s not the last time I’ll be arrested for protesting against the arms trade, but I feel I didn’t get enough value for this arrest, so I’ll try to do it differently next time. If you’re gonna get dragged from a peaceful protest by police, you may as well do it in front of national media cameras. And if you’re gonna get fined, you may as well make them work for it by locking or gluing yourself to the fixtures.

Chris: I hope I will continue to resist the arms trade in all sorts of ways – NVDA is one, visible dramatic way to do this but there are lots of ways to be involved in ending this vile business.

What are your hopes for the future?

Tank at DSEI 2011

Tank at DSEI 2011

Chris: The ideology of the arms trade is that you can have peace and security through buying and owning a gun, a drone, or a nuclear armed submarine. More and more people are seeing through this nonsense and realising that in our globalized world our lives and our security are entwined with each other – whoever and wherever we may be.

I believe the over the next decade more and more people will see that far from creating security the arms trade actually creates insecurity and injustice and, rather than pouring more guns into the world we need to tackle the underlying causes of injustice.

Kirk: I share the sentiment of one veteran anti-DSEI campaigner who said “I wish we could chuck all the exhibits in the Dock” but whereas she doesn’t think that’s feasible, I want to work towards a day when we can mobilise enough people to push inside the arms fair, dismantle every disgraceful exhibit and tell the arms dealers to get out and never come back.

Finally, do you have any advice for people considering taking similar action against the arms trade?

Kirk: If you think you might get arrested, I strongly recommend having a friend film the whole thing (taking care not to record anything that could incriminate other protesters). The footage that I had in court was very useful; allowing me to highlight inaccuracies in police statements.

Chris: I think that CAAT and the Stop the Arms Fair coalition did a great job of bringing people together to plan and prepare to resist the arms fair. I would definitely recommend if people want to get involved in NVDA to take part in one of the training and preparation workshops that regularly take place.

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