Justice at Greenock
On Thursday 21st October 1999 Sheriff Margaret Gimblet instructed the jury at Greenock Sheriff Court to acquit Angie Zelter, Ellen Moxley and Ulla Roder who had been charged with causing £80,000 damage to Maytime, a Trident-related acoustic research barge in Loch Goil, during a Ploughshares 2000 disarmament action in June this year. The trial had lasted 18 days.
The three women appeared on four charges which were basically: –
That they maliciously and wilfully damaged the vessel Maytime.
That they attempted to steal two inflatable life rafts.
That they maliciously and wilfully damaged equipment on board Maytime.
That they maliciously and wilfully damaged equipment by depositing it ‘in the waters of Loch Goil, whereby said items became waterlogged, useless and inoperable’ Or Alternatively, that they stole equipment by throwing it in the waters of Loch Goil.
Procurator Fiscal David Webster put forward a very simple Crown case. Basically he proved that the three women were on Maytime and that they had done all the damage mentioned in the indictment. The only witness connected with Maytime was Iain McPhee, the Barge Master, who knew very little about the research undertaken by his barge or its sister vessel Newt.
The Defence case involved five expert witnesses:
Francis Boyle, Professor of International Law, University of Illinois, gave evidence that international law applies everywhere, and that, due to its destructive power, Trident could not be used in any manner that was lawful.
Judge Ulf Panzer from Germany gave evidence of the legitimacy of nonviolent action to uphold the law. He described how he had campaigned to get American Pershing missiles removed from his country culminating in a sit-down blockade of the Mutlangen base, along with 20 other judges. They had learned from the Nazi era the high cost of remaining silent when their government acted unlawfully.
Professor Paul Rogers from Bradford University gave evidence on the composition and capabilities of the Trident system, the imminent danger of nuclear war and accidents and of the effectiveness of civil resistance to change official policies.
Professor Jack Boag testified about the imminent danger from nuclear weapons.
Finally, Rebecca Johnston of ACRONYM, Geneva, explained the consequences of the failure of successive UK governments to fulfil its obligations to disarm under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and how the present administration is continuing to block negotiations. She described how Maytime is an essential part of the Trident weapon system, and how other states perceive Britain’s deployment of Trident as a threat.
Advocates John Mayer and John McLaughlin represented Ulla and Ellen, but Angie Zelter defended herself. They all submitted that international law applies in Scotland, that the threat or use of nuclear weapons was found to be generally contrary to international law by the International Court of Justice and the deployment of Trident is seen as a threat. In addition, John Mayer put forward a defence of necessity and John McLaughlin argued that although the women had been wilful they had not been malicious. At the end of their arguments both advocates put a submission to the sheriff that she should remove the verdict from the jury and acquit the women.
In addressing the jury Sheriff Gimblett said “I have to conclude that the three in company with others were justified in thinking that Great Britain in their use of Trident… could be construed as a threat and as such is an infringement of international and customary law. I have heard nothing which would make it seem to me that the accused acted with criminal intent.”