The three offered clear and moving accounts of their peace actions at the Ministry of Defence during Holy Week 2012 when they marked the building with blessed charcoal using words such as ‘Trident Crucifies the Poor’ and ‘Disarm Trident’. Reports from arresting officers were read out in court which affirmed that there actions had been
totally nonviolent and that they had not resisted arrest in any way. While not disputing the fact of their action, they all argued that they had lawful excuse and moral convictions for what they did.
Twenty-five supporters joined Dr Ray Towey, 68, Henrietta Cullinan, 50, and Katrina Alton , 44, for a time of prayer outside Hammersmith Magistrates’ Court today before a three-hour hearing which found them guilty of causing criminal damage.
Ray, Henrietta and Katrina explained the relevance of the time and symbols used: Lent, a time for reflection and repentance at both personal and community levels and charcoal, a known symbol of that repentance that is used within the Christian faith community. The protection of life and people was at the heart of their actions and they all stated that these were more important than property or buildings. Their intention in marking the Ministry of Defence building was to engage the Ministry and those who work there in critical reflection on the UK’s nuclear defence policy and the Trident programme in particular in order to change it and prevent nuclear weapons from ever being used.
Judge Susan Williams acknowledged her understanding of this in her questioning of Ray Towey, and again in her summing up saying that these were profound means used to highlight the folly of humankind.
The three, who defended themselves, were given substantial time to present their own evidence and outline why they did what they did. The Judge said that she needed a good amount of time to reflect on what she had heard and the legal implications and adjourned the hearing for almost two hours.
Before adjournment, Ray Towey made a short intervention inviting the Judge to discharge them and to stand outside the normal boundaries of the legal institution and set a precedent. On her return she gave a fulsome summary – showing that she had listened with great care to all that she had heard – but ultimately finding them guilty of criminal damage. They were each charged with paying £200 court costs. While the Ministry of Defence had put forward a claim for £400 cleaning costs the Judge refused to enforce this.
The three were given an absolute discharge. All of them made it clear that they could not in conscience pay the court costs.
Their action was supported by the London Catholic Worker, Catholic Peace Action and Pax Christi.
For Ray Towey the outcome of this trial would be finalised on 24 June 2014 when he was called to attend Camberwell Magistrates Court to explain why he had not paid the court £200 costs. He had during this time several letters from bailiffs requesting the money and he had replied that as a Christian to him nuclear weapons were immoral and that he could not in conscience pay the court as he considered his actions in 2012 justified and therefore he was not guilty. Usually this defence is not accepted and a prison sentence of about 7 days would be expected. The judge listened to his explanation and replied that she would not accept this refusal but would give him more time to pay. He asked her not to delay her judgement as he was not going to pay and he wished to resolve the issue that day. She told him to go away and consider payment. He therefore left the court disappointed that the issue still remained unresolved. As he was descending the stairs leading to the exit the Clerk of the Court called out to him to return to the court as there was now a possibility of another outcome which might be beneficial to him. On return to the court the Judge sentence him to one day in jail. A one day sentence means that he was confined to the court till the end of business that day. It is in effect a symbolic sentence which meant he had no longer any need of paying the costs and would be free that day to go home. Ray Towey thanked her when the court rose and went home as a free person.