IN WHAT has been hailed as a complete "surrender", Brighton arms firm EDO MBM has lost its lost-running legal battle with peace campaigners.
The firm's arrogant attempts to restrict protest outside their factory has ended in expensive failure. Their bid to secure a no-protest exclusion zone with an injunction under the Protection from Harassment Act has ended in unconditional failure after a year-long High Court battle.
The case is estimated to have cost the company upwards of £1 million and this week US parent company EDO Corp announced 2.7 million dollars losses this year, citing losses from legal actions as a contributing factor. EDO MBM will pay the protesters' costs, expected to be tens of thousands of pounds. Big questions remain over the handling of the case. What has come to light is a behind-the-scenes deal between EDO MBM, their lawyer Timothy Lawson Cruttenden (the solicitor responsible for the injunction restricting protests outside the Oxford Primate Lab), Sussex Police and possibly the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordinating Unit. Andrew Beckett, press spokesman for SMASH EDO, said: "We were accused of harassment by EDO, and Sussex Police, who secured an interim injunction on trumped-up evidence, but it must be clear to the world after the collapse of the injunction and the dropping of so many criminal cases that we are ones who have been harassed, and it is they in who have been harassing us."
EDO brought the injunction claim against 14 protesters and two protest groups in April 2005, and by bringing spurious evidence into the case were able to get an interim injunction against all protesters (i.e any member of the public campaigning outside the factory, regardless of their conduct).
The defendants argued consistently that the use of the Protection from Harassment Act to restrict protest infringed their rights under articles 10 and 11 of the ECHR. This was dramatically illustrated by the imprisonment on remand of two protesters for alleged breaches of the injunction last summer. Both cases were subsequently dropped before reaching court. Protesters were placed under threat of five years' imprisonment for any breach of the injunction terms that prohibited simple acts such as standing in the road.
The two-week trial date that had been fixed for 21st November was then lost because of the delaying tactics of EDO and their legal team. Judge Walker expressed “grave concerns” about possible “bad faith” on the part of EDO. The defendants complained about this in a counter attack that detailed evidence of EDO lawyer Tim Lawson-Cruttenden’s abuse of the legal process.
To try and head off these damaging claims by the defence team and realising the danger of losing this important argument, EDO Corp flew in their Vice-president and General Counsel Lisa Palumbo to try and settle the case out of court. Those defendants who were represented by publicly funded lawyers had no choice but to accept the generous settlement offer or as it spelled the end for legal aid funding, but the three litigants in person who did not rely on public funding refused the deal as it involved signing undertakings that placed restrictions on their future conduct.
The first litigant in person, Ceri Gibbons, who had joined the case voluntarily to defend his right to protest, was then offered discontinuance and full costs without condition of an undertaking, and he was released from the case on February 13th 2006. Since the injunction against all protesters had been narrowed only to included named defendants, and EDO had withdrawn all allegations against him personally, the basic human rights battle had been won.
The remaining two defendants Chris Osmond and Lorna Marcham then continued the legal ‘abuse of process’ attack against EDO which they eventually won. EDO had clearly expected that after the settlement the resulting absence of defence lawyers, and the new arrival of a QC and improved legal team working for them to prove too intimidating for the litigants in person to fight. In the event they put their case without lawyers and Judge Walker’s ruling condemned EDO’s “negligent and unprofessional conduct” in the case, and also blamed former managing director of EDO MBM David Jones for the way the case had not been prepared more quickly for a full trial. David Jones resigned on December 31st 2005 for undisclosed reasons.
Meanwhile, in Brighton, peace protesters facing criminal charges for alleged incidents related to protests at EDO’s factory have had dozens of cases dropped by the CPS after a pivotal case in January where a District Judge brought in from Surrey had ruled that documents concerning police communications with EDO before the injunction was brought, should be opened to public scrutiny.
Criminal Defence solicitor Lydia Dagostino of Kelly’s Solicitors, who had demanded that an outside judge deal with the case, said that there was likely to be evidence that implied improper relations between Sussex Police and EDO and it was possible that arrests of protesters were made to provide an atmosphere of disorder to convince a high court judge to give the injunction.
The CPS documents could have supported this argument if they had been released. The CPS now face the prospect of having to drop all further criminal cases against protesters if they want to keep the documents secret. Many protesters believe they contain further evidence of a deliberate covert operation involving Sussex Police, the National Extremist Tactical Co-ordination Unit (NETCU), EDO Corporation, and Lawson-Cruttenden and Co. to suppress protests at the factory.
In the year-long High Court case it was that Chief Inspector Kerry Cox of Sussex Police had changed her witness statement to exaggerate her view of the anticipated threat by protesters to company employees after direct pressure from EDO’s lawyer Tim Lawson-Cruttenden. The altered statement was instrumental in gaining EDO an interim injunction against protesters that restricted their human rights.
The collapse of the EDO injunction case and also the 23 criminal charges against anti-EDO protesters cast a shadow over all similar injunction cases against animal rights protesters, as it highlights a shady practice by police and court officers in a political operation to suppress freedom of expression, acting in a manner that is clearly an abuse of the powers of the state over political activity, but has been supported by the highest levels of the government.