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Sympathy for drones protesters

11 October 2013

SHUTTERSTOCK

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 June.

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 necessary."

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 guilty."

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 pruning hooks.

"We hope others will look on this landmark case as an invitation from the judge to join our campaign to ground the drones."

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