Two British activists have been arrested while apparently trying to disarm warplanes bound for Saudi Arabia. Daniel Woodhouse, a Methodist minister from Leeds, and Quaker Sam Walton were released on bail pending charges after breaking into BAE's Warton site in Lancashire.
The pair were arrested in the early hours of Sunday morning while attempting to disarm fighter jets due to be delivered to the Royal Saudi Air Force for use, it is assumed, in coalition bombing raids on Yemen. The aircraft are part of a multi-billion pound deal between BAE Systems and the Saudi regime, and were due to be shipped to Saudi Arabia within weeks.
"BAE security found us just metres from war planes bound for Saudi Arabia," the two said on their release. "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."
They added their belief that the British government has blood on its hands and that there is a need to do everything possible to stop the transfer of weapons and show that such sales are illegitimate. "By providing weapons and support," insisted the campaigners, "Britain is deeply complicit in Saudi war-crimes, and it's vital that we bring an end to this immoral, abhorrent trade."
Speaking to MEMO, Mr Woodhouse mentioned that he and his colleague have been campaigning against British arms sale to human rights violators like Saudi Arabia, Israel and Bahrain for "donkey's years". He and Walton were just "metres" away from the aircraft, he said, which they were hoping to "render physically incapable." When prompted to explain how they had planned to do that, Woodhouse referred to a famous case in 1996 when ten women entered the same site to disable a plane bound for Indonesia to be used in the genocide in East Timor, armed with only a hammer. The two men took this "symbolic act," he said, "to mirror the rightness of the actions of the three women, which a jury 21 years ago found to be lawful."
In their statement, the activists stressed that their actions had been planned over many months, adding: "We do not take these steps lightly, but we have no other option. We have been active in opposing the arms trade to Saudi Arabia for years, and in the face of wilful government denial that there is a problem with arming Saudi, including willingness to suspend our own due process of law, and complete unwillingness to consider stopping arming Saudi Arabia, we must take this action."
Britain has approved over £3.3 billion worth of arms to Saudi forces since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015, and continues to approve arms licences despite repeated allegations of war crimes being committed.