acquitted sam walton rev daniel woodhouse
Freedom of Religion

Would Muslims have been acquitted for breaking into BAE and trying to disarm Saudi-bound fighter planes?

Methodist minister the Rev’d Daniel Woodhouse and Quaker activist Sam Walton have been acquitted after breaking into a BAE Systems factory in Warton, Lancashire, armed with a hammer inscribed ‘They shall beat their swords into ploughshares‘ (Isa 2:4) and ‘Choose life‘ (Deut 30:19). Their intention had been to disarm Typhoon fighter jets destined for Saudi Arabia, which are being used to pulverise Yemen. The UK has licensed £3.8bn worth of arms to the Saudi regime since the bombing began in March 2015, leading some to accuse HM Government of putting arms sales above human rights.

It isn’t clear what damage such a puny hammer could have done to a mighty Typhoon fighter jet, but the intrepid duo were in any case apprehended by BAE security and prosecuted for trespass with intent to cause criminal damage. According to Bindman’s, their lawyers: “They argued that they had justification for their actions relying on the imminent and immediate use of the aircraft in the Saudi’s conflict in Yemen. The defendants relied heavily on their religious conviction, one a Quaker the other a Methodist, to explain their actions.”

So the pair’s “religious conviction” and arguments for the “greater good” persuaded the judge to acquit them, which he did, explaining:

“They were impressive and eloquent men who held strong views about what they were doing and what they wanted to achieve. They impressed me as being natural in their delivery and honest throughout their evidence…”

“I heard about their belief of BAE’s role in the supply of aircraft to Saudi Arabia. I heard about their beliefs regarding the events in Yemen, that they include the death of civilians and the destruction of civilian property, and the basis for their belief that this amounted to war crimes…”

“However, having considered in full the defence under sec 5 Criminal Damage Act 1971, I find the defendants not guilty.”

It isn’t entirely clear why honest and eloquent (or impressive) pacifists of any religion may not now force entry into any military establishment with the intention of hindering a war effort. Isn’t the pursuit of peace and reconciliation always going to be the ‘greater good’?

Nor is it entirely clear why a pair of Muslims armed with a hammer inscribed ‘Allahu Akbar‘ and ‘Religion of peace’ may not force entry into any military establishment with the intention of hindering UK intervention in any Muslim country. What if two peace-minded Muslims had been trying to save their co-religionists in Yemen from Saudi-Salafist extremism? Since when did an individual’s religious conviction trump the rights of a company like BAE in the lawful (and moral) pursuit of arms sales? You may deem it to be an immoral trade, and that is your right, but who are you?

Would two Muslims have been acquitted of this crime as readily as a Methodist and a Quaker, and to so much public approbation? Or would establishment Islamophobia have ensured that Muslims would have been dealt with rather differently; their religious conviction deemed regressive; their righteous and peaceful motives judged subversive, if not treasonous, and certainly not remotely conducive to the greater good?

That aside, Britain has surely come to a sorry pass when two Christians can be acquitted of admitted trespass with the intention to cause criminal damage, while hundreds of other Christians are about to be imprisoned from praying peacefully outside abortion clinics.