Mehdi Elhadi was convicted yesterday at Snaresbrook Crown Court of obstructing a Docklands Light Railway train heading for the DSEi arms fair on 10 September 2003, before the extremely biased Judge Nicholas Medawar QC. He was given a conditional discharge and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £611.
Judge Medawar ruled out this argument before the jury came in, asserting that "there could be no connection between DSEi and war in the gulf", but giving no explanation of why that judgment of fact could not be left to the jury to make. Mehdi maintained his plea of not guilty, but his barrister had to withdraw from the case, as he had no other defence to present, so Mehdi represented himself, much to the annoyance of the judge.
The jury was sworn in, and a charge was put that Mehdi unlawfully obstructed a locomotive on the railway, contrary to section 36 of the Malicious Damage Act of 1831.
After lunch, counsel for the prosecution opened the case. He talked about the right to peacefully protest, and argued that "peacefully" means without interfering with anyone else. This is really irrelevant, as Mehdi's action was an attempt to save life & limb, not simply a protest.
Prosecution counsel read a witness statement by Acting Chief Inspector Alex Carson of the British Transport Police, and showed a photo. Mehdi agreed with both pieces of evidence.
He noted Mehdi's previous positively good character, and that Mehdi did not struggle or use any violence during his action
At 10:30 am on Wednesday 10th September 2003, a train pulled in to East India station. Mehdi used a bicycle D-lock around his neck to attach himself to the front of the train. He was photographed there wearing a sign that read "Selling weapons = war" and "Stop selling weapons - Shut DSEi, Europe's biggest arms fair, now". The electricity was switched off, and in Carson's words, "everything came to a grinding halt".
The police called a removal team from Specialist Group International, who cut through the lock and moved Mehdi off the track. (I forgot to note how long that took, sorry). Mehdi was then arrested.
Mehdi then gave evidence in his defence. He lives in Wales, having been born in the UK and brought up in Iraq. He lived in Kuwait in 1991, the time of the last Gulf War. He was aware that cluster bombs and depleted uranium munitions were for sale at DSEi, and that his family in Iraq are in danger from unexploded cluster bombs. He said that he was aware in detail of what was happening inside DSEi, and that the train was carrying delegates from Syria, Israel and many other countries.
He was aware of many other protests happening on the same day, including the Critical Mass cyclists, and the police use of anti-terrorism powers against protestors. He intended his action, in concert with the actions of others, to stop the fair. He said "I felt that it was fair and proper to stop the fair" and that "deals might not have been struck" as a result of his action". His intention was to help end the exhibition in 2005 & 2007, as well as 2003.
Mehdi then turned to his necessity defence, in the face of a judge asserting that "the defence of necessity doesn't exist [in your case]" and that "whatever you did had no affect on war in the Gulf". His action was "necessary because the exhibition was endangering people around the world, including my family". The judge remarked that he had already ruled out the necessity defence, a fact the jury would not have been made aware of if Mehdi had not been so persistent.
Mehdi then read from character references from Simon Thomas MP and Gill Evans MEP. Simon Thomas praised Mehdi's "thoughtful and measured" comments on war, and his "sincerity, conviction and well balanced argument"
Mehdi referred to the stress and sadness that the conflict affecting his family had on him. He re-iterated that he felt his action was legal, and said that the ongoing war is shocking and difficult for him to deal with.
Judge Medawar summed up to the jury, and practically ordered them to convict. He said that obstructing trains can be a very serious matter, and that the "word unlawful [in the charge and the 1831 act] is tortologous.
Medawar picked up on the word "mitigating", the choice of which I think as about the only slip up that Mehdi made, and said that he did not consider Mehdi's action as serious as, for example, that of someone who stops a train in order to facilitate a robbery, and that he was not planning on a heavy sentence.
In an amazing display of hypocrisy & bias, after repeatedly telling Mehdi not to make political speeches in court, the judge said that "British soldiers risked their lives in Iraq" and that it was therefore "unfortunate to question the war, as these demonstrations did". He told the jury: "There is clear evidence on which you should convict", and that he would initially require a unanimous verdict. The jurors retired.
It is a long-established principle of English common law that a jury is entitled to act according to its own conscience and appreciation of the evidence, irrespective of judicial direction or expectation, as stated by Lord Chief Justice Vaughan in Bushell's case (1670, 6 State Tr. 999; Vaughan 1350). This was confirmed in 1784 by Lord Mansfield, who said that the jury might follow "the prejudices of their affections and passions", in "blending law and fact" and that whether they have done it wrong "is a matter entirely between God and their own consciences" (see 'The Conscience of the Jury', July 1991, by Lord Devlin, in Law Quarterly Review, p. 401 discussing R. v. Dean of St Asaph) and 'Freedom, the Individual and the Law' by Geoffrey Robertson QC. Unfortunately, no-one is allowed to tell the jury any of this, and crown court judges claim the right to decide law solely for themselves.
The jury returned after about ten minutes, with a unanimous guilty verdict.
Judge Medawar then preceded to sentence, seeing no need for a probation report. He said to Mehdi, "You are entitled to your views & to protest. That is no defence, but you have persisted to a trial by jury. I propose to order a conditional discharge for twelve months with an order for you to pay prosecution costs. Do you have anything to say?" (or words to that effect). Mehdi repeated that he feels he was legally justified, an opinion Judge M.War clearly did not share, saying "You can protest by marching in the street, by holding banners up and by speaking at meetings. You will pay prosecution costs of £611 pounds." He also ordered a 12 month Conditional Discharge, meaning that if Mehdi is convicted of any other crime in the next year he can be re-sentanced for his action at DSEi.
After the trial, Mehdi wrote;
"As an Iraqi, I am shocked and appalled at the aggression shown towards Iraq and the mortal threat my family has been placed under by recent events there. The judge who heard my case was unprepared to even allow my defence to be presented. I protested at DSEi 2003 with thousands of others, all of us knowing we were justified in taking the direct action we had chosen to take against this immoral event.
We all need to take this as a learning experience, so that our opposition to DSEi can be even more effective, until we bring about the end of this immoral trade!"