Back to top

Setback for arms dealers as court quashes peace activists' convictions

The four defendants and their solicitor outside court at an earlier hearing.

Setback for arms dealers as court quashes peace activists' convictions

The UK Supreme Court has declared that blocking a road can at times be a lawful form of protest.

Yesterday (25 June), the court quashed the convictions of four Christian peace activists - Henrietta Cullinan, Chris Cole, Joanna Frew and Nora Ziegler - who had been convicted after blocking a road to the DSEI arms fair in London in September 2017 (they are pictured above at an ealier hearing, with their solicitor, Raj Chada).

That our simple protest, which lasted onlya few minutes, though possibly disruptive, led to four years of legal toing and froing, illustrates very well the power of nonviolence,” said defendant Henrietta Cullinan, a member of the Peace Pledge Union, after the ruling.

The four had contributed to blocking the set-up of the arms fair by forming a “lock-on”: locking themselves together to block the road. They were among more than 100 people arrested at protests against the DSEI arms fair that year. There were a similar number of arrests when the arms fair returned in 2019.

They were found Not Guilty by a District Judge in February 2018, but the prosecution appealled and they were convicted at the High Court in January 2019 and given a conditional discharge for 12 months.

But now the Supreme Court has ruled that the District Judge had been right to acquit them.

There should be a certain degree of tolerance to disruption to ordinary life, including disruption of traffic, caused by the exercise of the right to freedom of expression or freedom of peaceful assembly,” said the Supreme Court judges, Nicholas Hamblen and William Stephens, in their ruling.

They added, “We consider that the peaceful intentions of the appellants were appropriate matters to be considered in an evaluation of proportionality.”

The judgement was celebrated by the Peace Pledge Union (PPU), the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and civil liberties campaigners.

“Our government like many governments, sees any protest as a threat to its authority, as well it might,” said Henrietta Cullinan. “Selling arms is a rotten, dangerous business.”

Her fellow defendant Chris Cole, who has in the past served prison sentences for nonivolent direct action, urged resistance to the Policing Bill currently going through Parliament, which threatens to introduce severe restrictions on freedom to protest. The Kill the Bill coalition has already welcomed the Supreme Court's judgement yesterday.

Henrietta, Chris, Nora and Joanna also encouraged as many people as possible to resist the DSEI arms fair when it returns to the Excel Centre in east London in September 2021. Protests are planned by CAAT, the PPU, Quaker Roots and other members of the Stop the Arms Fair coalition.

More immediately, the PPU and CAAT are also backing people in the Malvern area who will be protesting at the Three Counties arms fair in Malvern on 8 July.


Pictured above, left to right: Joanna Frew, Chris Cole, Raj Chada (solicitor), Nora Ziegler and Henrietta Cullinan at a court hearing in 2018.