A JUDGE has expressed sympathy for six protesters, including two
priests, whose peace demo shut down an RAF station that controls
drones over Afghanistan.
District Judge John Stobart described them as "dutiful people",
and said that it was only with a "heavy heart" that he found them
guilty of criminal damage at RAF Waddington, in Lincolnshire, on 3
Urging them to appeal, he gave each one a six-month conditional
discharge, and ordered each to pay £75 costs, £10 compensation to
the RAF, and a £15 victim surcharge.
The protesters, including the Associate Minster of St Mark's,
Mansfield, the Revd Dr Keith Hebden, and Fr Martin Newell, a Roman
Catholic priest, cut through a chain-link fence to enter the base,
where personnel from 13 Squadron operate the unmanned drones. While
some went in search of the command centre and handed out leaflets,
others planted a symbolic peace garden.
Dr Hebden told the court: "The decision to pilot armed drones
from Waddington makes RAF Waddington a war zone. It brings the
Afghanistan conflict into this country, and it puts ourselves in
grave danger. If this country becomes part of a war zone, it makes
all of our lives less safe. Our intention was to save lives.
"Unless I intervened when a crime has been committed that could
lead to damage to property or loss of life, then I'm guilty of a
crime, too. It was a big deal for me to do it, but it felt
Passing sentence, District Judge Stobart said: "I find, and not
without some hesitation, that the lack of proximity or relationship
between the defendants and those in Afghanistan who may be either
targeted or hit accidentally by these drones is insufficient. I
therefore, with a very heavy heart, find all the defendants
Speaking outside the court, Dr Hebden said: "The judge came as
close as he felt he was able to acquitting us and recognise both
our sincerity and the objective weight of our claims. We put the
drones on trial, and they were found guilty on all counts. It's
time for the Church to take serious and practical steps to heed
Isaiah's hope, and beat swords into ploughshares and spears into
"We hope others will look on this landmark case as an invitation
from the judge to join our campaign to ground the drones."