David Morrison / Irish Political Review – 2008-07-28 09:30:03
DERRY, Ireland (June 15, 2008) — On 11 June 2008, 6 people, who had occupied the offices of Raytheon in Derry and destroyed computers, were acquitted of criminal damage by a Belfast jury. Raytheon is a huge US arms manufacturer, with sales of $20 billion in 2006 and over 70,000 employees worldwide. It makes Patriot, Tomahawk, Cruise and Sidewinder missiles, and much more besides.
The action which gave rise to the criminal charges took place on 9 August 2006 during Israel’s war on Lebanon, in which well over 1,000 Lebanese civilians were killed by Israeli bombing and shelling.
On 30 July 2006, an Israeli aircraft targeted a residential building in Qana in southern Lebanon with a Raytheon-supplied “bunker buster” bomb. As a result, 28 civilians, from two extended families, the Hashems and the Shaloubs, were killed. The dead included 14 children.
This event led to 9 members of the Derry Anti War Coalition occupying Raytheon’s offices in Derry ten days later. They remained there until forcibly removed by police in riot gear about 8 hours later. Substantial damage was done to Raytheon property:
“Documents found on the premises were thrown from the windows to supporters outside. After our supporters were moved away by the police, computers, already damaged, were hurled out. Our main target was the mainframe: we knew that putting this out of action would disrupt Raytheon’s ordering system and thus hamper production, including production of missiles. The mainframe was decommissioned with a fire-extinguisher.”
This account is taken from The Raytheon 9: Resisting war crimes is not a crime, an excellent pamphlet about the affair by Eamonn McCann, who took part in the occupation.
The action eventually led to 6 of the participants appearing before a judge and jury in Belfast in May 2008, charged with criminal damage and affray. On 4 June 2008, after the prosecution had put its case, the judge expressed the opinion that there was no case to answer on either charge.
However, the prosecution appealed to a higher court and won with respect to the criminal damage charge, which then had to be put the jury. A few days later, the jury found all the accused not guilty on the criminal damage charge. The charge of affray was dismissed by the judge without it being put to the jury.
The trial went largely unreported in the local Northern Ireland media, and in the Dublin and London media. The same is true of the verdict, even though it has sensational implications. The defence argued that the accused had undertaken their action in order to prevent war crimes being perpetrated in Lebanon by Israel using Raytheon-supplied weapons. In the words of Eamonn McCann in a statement afterwards, by finding the accused not guilty:
“The jury has accepted that we were reasonable in our belief that: the Israel Defence Forces were guilty of war crimes in Lebanon in the summer of 2006; that the Raytheon company, including its facility in Derry, was aiding and abetting the commission of these crimes; and that the action we took was intended to have, and did have, the effect of hampering or delaying the commission of war crimes.” 
In other words, in the opinion of the jury, having heard the evidence, it was reasonable of the defendants to believe that Raytheon was engaged in criminal activity by supplying Israel with armaments and that they were justified in perpetrating criminal damage on Raytheon property in order to hamper this criminal activity. In his statement, Eamonn McCann called
“on the office of the Attorney General and the Crown Prosecution Service, in light of this verdict, to institute an investigation into the activities of Raytheon at its various plants across the UK, with a view to determining whether Raytheon is, as we say it is, a criminal enterprise.”
The Raytheon trial would normally have taken place in Derry, where the offences alleged were committed. However, on 14 September 2007, the prosecution requested a change of venue, on the grounds that protests outside the court might intimidate jurors, and coverage in the local media might prejudice them.
At this time, the presiding judge, the Derry recorder, Corinne Philpott, banned publicity about the case, but in such general terms that journalists present didn’t know what they were allowed to report and what was banned. There was no reporting of the application for a change of venue.
On 10 December 2007, Judge Philpott imposed a blanket ban on reporting in Northern Ireland of any matter relating to the trial, including anything at all relating to Raytheon. The objective seems to have been to prevent publicity in Northern Ireland about Raytheon’s arms business, which might make a jury incline to the view that damaging its computers was a good idea.
There was no attempt by mainstream media organisations in Northern Ireland or elsewhere to have this extraordinary gagging order lifted or modified, despite the fact that their work was being hampered by the ban. For example, the Village magazine reported on 29 February 2008:
“Suzanne Breen (formerly of Village, now writing for the Sunday Tribune) has been referred to the Attorney General for possible contempt in an article published on 18 November in the Sunday Tribune. She had mentioned possible witnesses from the USA and Lebanon, and that, if convicted, defendants could face lengthy jail sentences.
“Also RTE has ordered Belfast independent production company Below the Radar to delete sections on Raytheon from a film about Ireland and the arms trade transmitted on 14 January. The effect of the ban is that all discussion of Raytheon’s presence in Derry has been shut down.” 
However, a legal challenge to the order was launched by Shane O’Curry of the Foyle Ethical Investment Campaign. As a result, the Belfast recorder, Judge Burgess, modified the order in late February 2008 to limit the ban to the usual one on pre-trial reporting of material directly relevant to the trial. It could then be reported for the first time that the Derry recorder had acceded to the prosecution’s request to move the trial from Derry to Belfast.