Breaking BAE: Direct Action Against the Arms Trade

In the early hours on Sunday 29th January two men, Leeds-based Methodist minister Daniel Woodhouse and Quaker activist Sam Walton issued the following statement:

We intend to enter BAE Systems Air Base Site in Warton, to locate warplanes bound for Saudi Arabia, and disarm them. We take this action in order to prevent the export of weaponry that will almost certainly be used in war-crime.

They subsequently entered the BAE Systems site in Lancashire but were stopped metres from the aircraft by BAE security. They were arrested and later bailed pending charges.

The Typhoon aircraft (example above) are part of a multi-billion pound deal between BAE Systems and the Saudi regime, and are due to be shipped to Saudi Arabia within weeks. Recently a panel of UN experts warned that the devastating Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen, which have caused a humanitarian catastrophe, may be part of “a broader policy of attrition against civilian infrastructure” which may “amount to war crimes.”

On their release, the Reverend Daniel Woodhouse and Sam Walton said:

We’re gutted that we couldn’t disarm a plane and stop it being used to carry out airstrikes in Yemen. We could have saved lives by preventing Saudi war crimes in Yemen. The UK government has blood on its hands and we need to do everything we can to stop the transfer of weapons and show these sales are illegitimate. By providing weapons and support Britain is deeply complicit in Saudi war-crimes, and it’s vital that we bring an end to this immoral, abhorrent trade.

The date was chosen to coincide with the 21st anniversary of the direct action by a group of women activists, the Seeds of Hope Action, who broke into the same base and damaged planes destined for the Indonesian military, and to be used against civilians in illegally occupied East Timor. Similar to the action of 2017, the 1996 action came after years of campaigning to stop the arms sales, but in the words of Andrea Needham, who wrote the book Hammer Blow about her experiences, “Nothing had worked and the planes were about to be delivered.”

The Seeds of Hope group were arrested and charged with criminal damage — estimated to be the equivalent of $3.6 million. Refused bail they were held in prison for six months. In court they argued that they had used ‘reasonable force to prevent crime’, namely genocide in East Timor. The jury listened carefully to the evidence about East Timor and how selling weapons to Indonesia made Britain complicit in the genocide, and acquitted the group of all charges.The acquittal caused outrage from the usual suspects in the national press and several MPs, who called for an enquiry by the Attorney General.

UK-made weapons have been used in Israel’s attacks on Gaza, and to repress democracy movements across the Middle East. We armed both Russia and Ukraine and supplied all sides in Libya’s civil war. The wars we’ve waged, such as those in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, have caused devastation and fuelled further conflict.

The government continues to prop up the arms trade through subsidies, to the tune of millions of pounds each year whilst public services continue to be cut. The government attempts to justify  support for the trade by stating the need to protect the highly-skilled jobs in the sector when in reality the number of jobs in the arms trade is in a long term decline and today the industry is, in it’s own words, failing at best.

Arms sales don’t enhance security; they fuel conflict, support repression and make the world a more dangerous place for all of us.

Despite extensive evidence that suggests Saudi Arabian forces have committed war crimes in Yemen, the UK has licensed over £2.8 billion worth of arms since the Saudi-led bombing of Yemen began. A legal analysis from barristers Matrix Chambers found that the UK government is breaking International, EU and UK law by supplying arms to Saudi Arabia in the context of its military intervention and bombing campaign in Yemen.

In June 2016 the High Court granted a judicial review into arms exports to Saudi Arabia, following an unprecedented case brought by Campaign Against Arms Trade. In October 2016, two Parliamentary committees said:

Given the evidence we have heard and the volume of UK manufactured arms exported to Saudi Arabia, it seems inevitable that any violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by the coalition have involved arms supplied from the UK. This constitutes a breach of our own export licensing criteria.

The Judicial Review of the government’s decision to keep selling arms will be heard in February.

Darren Kingaby


Thanks to Campaign Against The Arms Trade for the information provided above. Further and support for their campaigns and the judicial review can be found at https://www.caat.org.uk/