Tuesday 22 May, at Bristol Crown Court, the trial of two Oxford peace activists Philip Pritchard and Toby Olditch (known as the ‘B52 Two’) concluded with the jury returning a unanimous verdict of not-guilty- in less than three hours. The two were charged with conspiring to cause criminal damage at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire on 18 March 2003 when they tried to safely disable US B52 bombers to prevent them from bombing Iraq. The court heard the two men acted to prevent damage to life and property in Iraq, and war crimes by the aggressors.
The trial started on Monday 14 May 2007. This is the second trial for the alleged offence; the first in October 2006 ended in a hung jury, after 12 hours of deliberation spread over three days. The two accused were facing up to ten years in jail. There are two other similar cases awaiting re-trial, due to hung juries, at Bristol crown court.
The two activists maintain that war crimes were committed in the bombing as cluster bombs, which spread unexploded bomblets that kill and maim civilians (like mines) were used, as were ‘bunker busting’ bombs tipped with depleted uranium that fragments, spreading radioactive toxins which are harmful to civilians.
During the trial the prosecution accepted that even delaying the bombers would have prevented civilian casualties, as it would have allowed those fleeing cities more time to escape. In his hour and a half summing up today, Justice Crowther explained the legal tests that must be met for the prosecution to succeed, he reiterated the facts and summarised the evidence. A document ‘steps to verdict’ had been provided to assist the jury.
Toby Olditch said “We’re overjoyed, and thankful for the good sense of the jurors, for the wonderful support we’ve received, and for the commitment and expertise of our legal representatives. But hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people have still suffered as a result of the Government’s actions. It shouldn’t have come to the point that people had to take direct action to try to check the abuse of executive power.”
Phil Pritchard “I am delighted that the jury have returned a unanimous not-guilty verdict. Our action in trying to prevent illegal attacks on the people of Iraq in 2003 is vindicated. I hope war of this kind never happens again.”