This is NOT the official weblog of Mark Thomas; this is a place to post his articles and news to bring them to a wider audience. This blog is in no way endorsed by the activist/comedian Mark Thomas. Most of the posts appeared on - hopefully they won't object to them being republished here.

Monday, April 26, 2004

On trial for criminal damage

The police are jittery. At RAF Fairford last year, a friend had his toothbrush confiscated by policemen who thought it could be used to commit criminal damage. The officer asked: "What do you intend to do with this?" The reply - "Fight truth decay?" - almost got him arrested.

In another incident, a protester was forced to remove a T-shirt with the words "Fuck Bush" on it because the garment could lead to a breach of the peace.

At a demonstration in March at RAF Menwith Hill, the US spy base, Professor Dave Webb was arrested for "being in possession of a PA system with intent to cause criminal damage". Logically, the police must have believed he was about to launch an attack on the heavily armed US marines with an amplifier or mike stand.

If T-shirts, toothbrushes and PA systems are that much of a threat, then either the struggle against capitalism is going much better than expected and the system is on the verge of total collapse, or a cadre of surrealists has infiltrated the police force and police will shortly be baton-charging protesters armed with huge floppy giraffes and large fried eggs as shields.

Last year, the long arm of the surrealists felt my collar. And on 13 April, along with three other defendants, I appeared at Stratford Magistrates' Court, east London, charged with criminal damage to a minibus anti-roll bar to the tune of £80. The two-day trial, which resulted in the acquittal of myself, Steve Selby, "Fisheye" and Bobby Kool Van Kleff*, cost the taxpayer roughly £10,000.

It all started during the protests at the DSEi arms fair at the ExCeL exhibition centre in London's Docklands last year. A group of friends and I stopped a minibus full of BAe Systems people travelling to the fair, attempting to delay and obstruct their weapons-flogging fest. While some people stood in front of the bus to stop it moving, the "four defendants" slipped under the bus and attached ourselves to the underside by our necks and hands with bike D-locks and handcuffs.

At this point, some readers may disapprove of our actions, but I don't care if you do. You can "tut" in front of the television news or write as many letters to your MP as you like. BAe Systems remains well funded and protected by the government despite the allegations of slush funds and corrupt deals. It shifts Hawk jets to India at a time of conflict with Pakistan, refurbishes howitzers for the Moroccans in the occupied territory of Western Sahara, and provides "head-up" displays for the US fighter jets being sold to Israel. A group of soap-dodgers attaching themselves, with no violence or damage, to the company bus should be the least of BAe's worries.

The case was as weird as it was wasteful. The three lay magistrates, drawn probably from the great and the good within the small-business community, gave the whole proceedings an air of "trial by Rotarian". The prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service had the demeanour of a New Deal trainee. Every time he stood up to interject he looked as if he was seeking permission to go to the toilet, rather than making a point of law.

The only people who smiled were the police called to give evidence. They were generally friendly and, if caught on their own, would roll their eyes heavenwards and mutter: "CPS! Couldn't Prosecute Satan!" At stages, the proceedings were so tedious that the only way to stay awake was to keep an eye on which magistrate was nodding off, which they did in turns. A Mexican wave, but more of a Mexican nap.

The entire thing was based on a police statement that said we had deliberately scratched the entire length of the anti-roll bar to which two of us were attached, leaving gouges and exposed bare metal. This was proved to be false. An independent expert scientifically proved that no damage had occurred. So the CPS brought a case of criminal damage without really checking if any damage had occurred.

Our solicitor, Andrew Katzen, has represented 33 of the 44 people arrested at the DSEi protests. Four have pleaded guilty to crimes as heinous as carrying paint and stink bombs; three have been found guilty, though one is appealing against the decision, and the other 26 (80 per cent) have had their case dropped or been acquitted.

Compare that to BAe Systems. Their alleged payments of more than £6m into slush funds held by the Qatar foreign minister at the time of an arms deal were not investigated after the Jersey authorities deemed it "not in the public interest".

* It is a fact that many activists involved in direct action do have names that suggest they are not real people, but created by Jim Henderson for minor parts in Muppet capers.

For information on May Day action on the arms-fair promoters Spearhead, visit


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