District Judge dismisses Aldermaston SOCPA case

District Judge dismisses Aldermaston SOCPA case

Ministry of Defence takes 17 months to prepare a case doomed to failure.

In Newbury Magistrates Court, a District Judge dismissed a case of trespass on a nuclear licensed site against an Aldermaston peace campaigner. The prosecution under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act(SOCPA), failed to criminalise lawful protest.
Juliet McBride was arrested inside the perimeter fence at the Atomic Weapons Establishment in March 2007, during a no Trident replacement protest.

After the court visited the site this afternoon, the case was dismissed on the grounds that the SOCPA legislation applies only to the nuclear licensed site, not the entire space within the perimeter fence, and that Juliet McBride had not entered the licensed area.

The boundaries of the nuclear licensed site are clearly shown on the map issued with the license by the regulating authority, and there are multiple signs attached to the inner fence, also clearly marking the area.

Speaking after the case Juliet said, "The MoD have shown their usual crass incompetence in trying to extend the SOCPA legislation to meet their own needs rather than keeping to the law".

The court agreed an order for the defendant's costs.

Mrs McBride was sitting quietly on a fence holding a rainbow flag with the word "peace" on it, when she was arrested on 10 March 2007. Her action was to draw attention to the new developments at AWE Aldermaston in the week of the parliamentary vote which approved the development of a new generation of nuclear submarines from which to launch Trident missiles. Work on the building of facilities to test, design and build new warheads for the Trident system had, in advance of the vote, already commenced at Aldermaston.

The government brought in s.128 of SOCPA 2005 in order to criminalise trespass on sites designated by the Secretary of State. However, this is the first case in the country to be brought under s.128 as amended by s.12 of the Terrorism Act 2006 which criminalises trespass on a nuclear licensed site. According to the MoD in 2006, the introduction of this "offence will therefore protect the general public's democratic right to protest by ensuring that any such protests are conducted in a safe and controlled environment."

In her defence, Mrs McBride (who despite over 20 years of protest has no previous convictions at Aldermaston) argued that the prosecution of a peaceful protester under this legislation is disproportionate, and violates the right to freedom of expression.

"Successive governments have shown they are determined to stifle democratic participation in decision-making about Britain's nuclear weapons", said Mrs McBride. " This prosecution is yet another strand in that story…"

She also challenged the MoD's interpretation of the legislation to apply beyond the boundaries of the Nuclear Licensed Site. During debate on the Terrorism Bill, the Minister who introduced the amendment to SOCPA stated that “there would have to be substantial entry beyond the fence”and that “the individuals concerned would physically have to go beyond the fence”.

Other anti-nuclear and anti-war protesters have been prosecuted under s.128 at Menwith Hill, the US spy-base; Faslane, from where Trident nuclear submarines are deployed and – still awaiting trial – at Lakenheath, from where US nuclear bombs were recently withdrawn.

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For further information contact: Juliet McBride 07841351123 or AWPC on 07887802879

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