EDO MBM DROP CONTROVERSIAL ANTI-PROTEST ‘INJUNCTION AGAINST THE WORLD’
DEFIANT PROTESTERS FIGHT ON TO CLEAR THEIR NAMES.
[Queens Bench, High Court, Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand, London]
It is expected that a settlement will be finalised between arms firm EDO Corporation and most of the nine defendants who have fought against the company’s application for a permanent injunction. EDO have agreed, on condition of limited undertakings from the defendants, to lift their controversial ‘injunction against the world’, and to pay the defendants legal bill of over £200,000. The case has continued (without yet reaching a trial) for ten months. This is despite the fact that a speedy trial was expressly ordered by the original Judge, Mr Justice Gross because of the human rights infringements of the interim order.
The case began in March last year and caused public outrage because an interim injunction with full force of the law was granted for the arms company before the disputed evidence of alleged harassment had even been examined at trial, and it placed draconian conditions on the right to protest against EDO Corp’s Brighton subsidiary company EDO MBM Technology Ltd. Unlimited numbers of protesters have faced the threat of a five year prison sentence for any breach of its conditions. Crucially it applies not just to the named injunctees, but anyone else who might go to the factory to protest and be served with the order. The firm has been the target of robust but peaceful protests for nearly two years because of its supply of bomb release and guidance equipment used in the Iraq war, and by the Israeli military in bombing raids on Palestinian civilians, widely considered to be War Crimes by experts in international law, and human rights groups, Amnesty and Human Rights Watch.
The interim injunction has confined demonstrators to a narrow grass verge opposite the factory just feet from a dangerous cliff edge that drops onto a busy railway line. All use of video cameras has been forbidden and there have been numerous reports of assault and intimidation by EDO’s private security contractors, Guardian Guards Ltd, and harassment by Sussex Police against protesters since the ban came into force. There have been over thirty arrests of protesters in the same period.
In December Mr Justice Walker decided to lift some restrictions on video cameras so that protesters could protect themselves by gathering evidence of the alleged assaults for future court actions. Mark Lynch, Director of Guardian Guards, was singled out for criticism by two High Court judges because of his violent conduct. Numerous witnesses have come forward to give statements to the High Court about his aggressive and intimidating behaviour.
Two people arrested for alleged breaches of the interim injunction on Mark Lynch’s evidence and remanded to HMP Lewes last summer. Their trials are yet to be heard in the Crown Court before jury trials. They vigorously deny allegations that the breach the injunction.
Mr Justice Walker also heard in the most recent hearing in November evidence of illegal disclosure, professional negligence, and abuse of the legal process on the part of Tim Lawson-Cruttenden, the Solicitor-Advocate who has represented EDO throughout the proceedings. His website describes his law firm Lawson-Cruttenden and Co, as the ‘market leader’ in the use of harassment injunctions against protest groups. Mr Lawson-Cruttenden was ordered by the Judge to instruct a Barrister to defend him self from ‘grave’ allegations bordering on ‘bad faith.’
In the EDO case the defendants solicitor Beth Handley of Moss and Co., and prominent Human Rights Barrister Stephanie Harrison of Garden Court Chambers, succeeded for the first time in such a case in gaining legal aid to fight for several of the Defendants on grounds of public interest from a special committee of the Legal Services Commission. The combined expertise of the two lawyers has turned the tables on Lawson-Cruttenden, and exposed his corrupt practice to the clear light of day.
Three defendants Chris Osmond, Lorna Marcham, and Ceri Gibbons have represented themselves as Litigants in Person in the case, supported by the expertise of Helen Steel and Dave Morris of the McLibel trial, and Dr Max Gastone who represents SHAC in several other such injunction cases in which Lawson-Cruttenden is the representative for the claimants.
Ceri Gibbons was granted permission of the court to join as a volunteer defendant when it began last year. He had not been named by EDO as someone linked to the alleged campaign of harassment, but joined to defend his right to protest that was affected by the wide definition of protester in the injunction order. EDO then began to accuse him of a whole number of offences to try and smear his name. Wild allegations have ranged from ‘being the Prince of Denmark (?)’, ‘co-ordinating a campaign of harassment on the Brighton company six months before he arrived in the city’, ‘being arrested for breach of the injunction before it existed‘ ‘standing in the road but not obstructing anything’ to ‘being closely involved in ‘the campaign against war’’, On Monday EDO will have to admit in court that they have no evidence against him, and as one condition of the settlement with the represented defendants is an end to the ‘injunction against the world’, his human rights case has been effectively won in the settlement of the other defendants. EDO have withdrawn all allegations against him and will have to pay his costs for the trial. He has refused throughout to sign any undertaking that might restrict his right to protest and will be released from the case without making any concessions.
Lorna Marcham and Chris Osmond, the other two litigants in person remain in the case to clear their names. They have refused to sign any undertaking that might restrict their activities. ‘They are right to do this because they are absolutely innocent,’ says Ceri Gibbons. ‘Through ten months in court I have got to know them very well, and there is no way they are involved in any campaign of harassment. These are committed political activists who are being targeted and smeared with ridiculous allegations, just as I was, because they dared to stand up and tell the truth about the arms industry, about the war crimes these arms dealers are involved in, and about the collusion between EDO and Sussex police to intimidate protesters. They deserve everyone’s full support. They are up against serious opposition’
Ceri Gibbons says he has no doubt that the latest settlement was won not just by the ‘brilliant’ lawyers and litigants in person ‘in and out of court’, but also by those outside EDO’s factory in Home Farm road, Brighton, where despite threats of arrest and imprisonment, people continued to protest regardless. ‘The protests went on and continue to go on, despite the threat to those protesters liberty. Being tied up in legal bollocks I could not always made it to these demonstrations but the people who did can take a huge amount of the credit for this victory. The fact they refused to be intimidated and kept going back must have shown EDO they were wasting their money on this injunction. It was won on the ground as much, if not more so than in the Royal Courts of Justice. ’
It has emerged in the case that EDO’s lawyer Tim-Lawson-Cruttenden works closely with Special Branch, the National Extremist Tactical Command Unit (NETCU), as well as private investigation companies like Inquire Ltd, in order to bring interim injunctions on the basis of unproven allegations. His work is essentially political, as the unofficial legal weapon (he has been dubbed ‘Lawson-Clusterbomb’) of a government and national police policy to suppress and restrict protesters who have been subjected to numerous public allegations and vilification about their tactics, recently in the case of the animal rights movement, even branding them as ‘terrorists.’ In the EDO case last November the Attorney Generals office intervened to protect Lawson-Cruttenden from a ‘preventing war crimes defence argument’ that would have finished off EDO’s claims to being a lawful company forever. Nevertheless the defendants still won the right to rely on their genuine belief that EDO were involved in war crimes as part of their defence much to EDO’s disquiet.
Defence Barrister Stephanie Harrison has argued that the indiscriminate nature of interim ‘injunctions against the world’ are in direct contradiction to Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, rights to freedom of expression and assembly, enshrined in UK law under the Human Rights Act. EDO tried to claim that all protesters who attended demonstrations were working in concert to harass their employees, and that a number of convictions and arrests of defendants could be relied on to account for the employees fears that such conduct would continue in the future, and that an injunction was needed that did not just stop them, but an unknown number of other ‘extremist’ protesters who might be out there. This argument can only be described as a policy of collective punishment.
Since November five criminal trials, concerning allegations of assault, criminal damage, aggravated trespass and failure to obey police instructions, brought against protesters named in the injunction case, have all been lost by the Crown Prosecution Service. This meant EDO could not rely on the twelve hoped for convictions they were waiting for .
The latest case (the ‘CIA 3 Trial’ so named because it related to a Citizens Inspection Agency visit to the EDO factory in March 2005) that was heard just last week in Brighton Magistrates Court ended before it even began. In pre-trial legal arguments District Judge Cooper ordered the Crown to hand over documents that they were withholding under Public Interest Immunity (PII) regulations. The Judge ruled that the defence should see them because the documents might assist in a defence argument that alleged that Sussex Police had worked closely with EDO to ensure people were arrested in a cynical tactic to create a pretext of disorder that would justify a draconian injunction. The High Court injunction papers were served on named defendants just days after the arrests of the CIA 3, and protesters had noticed a marked shift in police tactics (in particular the use of Section 14 orders) in the weeks leading up to the service of the papers.
When District Judge Cooper ordered more papers protected under Public Interest Immunity to be disclosed about the police ‘Operation Kirk’ relating to the CIA protest, that might have confirmed CI Cox’s presence at the demonstrations, and her intention to arrest protesters without reasonable ground, the Brighton Crown Prosecutor Dennis Kavanagh, decided to offer no further evidence and requested that the case be dismissed so that the information could be kept secret.
What emerges is what appears to be a cynical scheme hatched between EDO, Corporation Sussex Police, and Lawson Cruttenden and Co, to suppress protests at the arms factory by means of fabricated evidence, false arrests, and a draconian injunction that has since led to the week long imprisonment to two separate people for taking part in what in any other circumstances would be considered a peaceful demonstration.
EDO Corporation’s attempt to settle the High Court case by lifting the injunction against the world removes ‘protected person’ status from their employees, other than against a handful of defendants, but the move can also be seen as a self- protective measure. Before the settlement was reached, the defendants had applied to the court to have the case struck out on grounds of an abuse of process by EDO’s lawyers. This application, that EDO could easily have lost on the damning evidence put before the court, along with the unremitting pressure of public demonstrations outside EDOs factory in Home Farm Road, sped up their willingness to make major concessions to the defendants in an out of court settlement.
What EDO probably didn’t expect was that the litigants in person would carry on the application even without the backing of star human rights lawyers. But this is exactly what might happen on Monday. EDO continue to face allegations of abuse of process, illegal disclosure of privileged documents, and misleading the court over their supply of equipment to Israel, which after denials under oath in several criminal trials and this High Court one, they have now admitted it is a fact.
The remaining defendants Lorna Marcham and Chris Osmond are supported by the stalwart experience of the Helen Steel and Dave Morris (the McLibel Two), and the harassment injunction experience of Dr Max Gastone, but they now face the vengeful arms-industry corporate powers of EDO Corp.
War Crimes Correspondent