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Manufacture of components used to fire cluster munitions challenged in court

Corporate Watch | 23.08.2012 22:45 | Smash EDO | Afghanistan | Anti-militarism | Palestine | South Coast | World

Two anti-militarist activists were found guilty of aggravated trespass in Brighton today. The pair had glued themselves to the gates of the EDO MBM factory in the early hours of 27th April 2011 in protest at the sale of umbilical cables for use in Afghanistan and also to the Israeli military.

EDO MBM is an arms factory in Moulsecoomb, Brighton which is wholly owned by the US company, ITT Exelis.

The campaigners were charged with a breach of section 68 of the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. Section 68 makes it unlawful to trespass on land, while at the same time doing an act with the intention of intimidating, obstructing or disrupting a lawful business.

The activists' defence was twofold: firstly that the purpose of the action was to attract media attention to the sale of weapons components from the factory and not to intimidate, obstruct or disrupt and, secondly, that EDO MBM's business was not lawful.

Not lawful business

The second part of the defence rested on the fact that EDO MBM in Brighton manufacture a component called the Field Replaceable Connector System (FRCS), an umbilical cable for fighter aircraft which EDO MBM's managing director Paul Hills said provided “coordinates to the guidance unit… on the weapon.”[1]

The defendants argued that, in supplying the component for supply to the US military the company was in breach of Section 2 of the Cluster Munitions Act. The act prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of cluster munitions from taking place within the UK, and by any UK national wherever they are. It also established penalties and enforcement mechanisms for these acts, of up to a 14 year prison sentence (see here -

EDO in the dock

Paul Hills, managing director of EDO MBM gave evidence as part of the prosecution case. Under cross-examination, which lasted three hours, he spelled out a range of arms contracts the factory is involved in and said the firm is not breaking UK law. Hills confirmed that EDO MBM did have a contract to supply FRCS cables to the US Company Lockheed Martin for the F-35 fighter fighter aircraft (also known as the Joint Strike Fighter). He confirmed that the F-35 will be supplied to Israel but claimed that the EDO MBM FRCS cables would not be on the planes supplied to Israel.

Both the US and Israel have opted not to ratify the 2010 Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Those who are acquainted with Hills' witness testimony in previous cases (see here - will not be surprised that he was extremely evasive. Hills claimed that he had no knowledge about cluster munitions, a statement that is hard to believe from a man who was a director of EDO in 2007, before the Cluster Munitions Act was passed, when the company was openly marketing equipment at the DSEi arms fair as having been tested as compatible with the Joint Stand off Weapon (JSOW), The JSOW is a cluster bomb which is now covered under the definition of the Cluster Munitions Act.

Despite this inconsistency, residing Magistrate Peter Privett said that Hills was “clear, credible and consistent“ and there was no reason to doubt him when he said the FRCS was not used to assist in the use of cluster bombs.

Hills said that EDO MBM acted within the boundaries of English law, obtained export licenses for its equipment which are scrutinised by the Export Control Organisation (ECO) and that the company was audited by the Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS).

However, Hills confirmed that EDO MBM did not seek any undertakings from their US customers that their weapons components would not be used to fire cluster munitions.

Victoria Kerly, defending Jessica Nero, said “You cannot be certain that your product which ends up on planes for the American air force does not enable the use of cluster bombs, can you?”

Mr Hills said: “We are very clear what it is used for. We have not been used[sic] to qualify for fitting to any weapons that are classified under the Cluster Munitions (Prohibition) Act 2010.”

“I can’t stop somebody doing something willfully with our product without our knowledge.”[2]

Jessica Nero, during her evidence said, “it is obvious to me that if the company makes components that are compatible with cluster munitions and have made promotional materials that explicitly state they are compatible with those munitions and have exported them to a country that has explicitly stated that cluster munitions are an essential munition in their arsenal, on the kind of aircraft they export to, it would make no sense to me for America to buy those from EDO if they were told they could not use them for this essential part of their arsenal.”[3]

In closing, the prosecution relied on the case of DPP V. Nero (2010), a case in the High Court relating to the campaign against Ahava (see, where Justice Laws ruled that in aggravated trespass cases the term “lawful business” was intended to refer to any business that was “inherently lawful”. The question: “Should the words, ‘lawful activity’... be limited to acts or events that are ‘integral’ to the activities at the premises in question” is currently awaiting appeal to the Supreme Court.

The prosecution also cited the case of Jones (2006). In the case of Jones, an anti-war protester who had broken into a US air base, Lord Hoffman made the remarks that “ordinary citizens who apprehend breaches of the law are normally expected to call the police”, Hoffman goes on to state that the law looks unfavourably on “self-help solutions” and “vigilantiism”.[4]

The magistrates found Pidwell and Nero guilty of aggravated trespass and sentenced them to a 14 month conditional discharge and ordered them to pay £200 each in costs. The pair plan to appeal.

The ongoing Smash EDO campaign has held regular demonstrations outside the EDO MBM factory since 2004. In 2009, during the Israeli bombing of Gaza, six people broke into the EDO factory and caused £300 000 worth of damage to the production line (see Nine people were arrested and charged with criminal damage. In 2010, the defendants were found not guilty (see on the basis that they had acted with the intention of preventing war crimes against Palestinians. Earlier this year the campaign held a summer of action (see against the factory.

On hearing the verdict Gavin Pidwell and Jessica Nero said “While we are naturally disappointed with today's verdict, we are confident that information that emerged during the trial, combined with the existing evidence documenting EDO's numerous breaches of law, will be enough, not only to quash our conviction but also, in due time, we hope it will be EDO and Paul Hills facing charges”.

[1] Transcript of Paul Hills' evidence in Regina V. Alford et al (2010)
[2] Originally reported by Ben Parsons, EDO boss gets grilling at Brighton protest trial, The Argus, 2nd August 2012 –, accessed 23rd August 2012.
[3] Originally reported by Ben Parsons, Smash EDO trial runs out of time at Brighton Court, The Argus, 4th August 2012 –, accessed 23rd August 2012.

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