British activist pursuing assault charges against airman
Stars and Stripes March 23, 2008
RAF MILDENHALL, England — A British activist is bringing charges against U.S. and U.K. personnel who she said assaulted her after she broke onto an Air Force base here in 2006.
Lindis Percy, 66, said she was “thrown to the ground” handcuffed and sustained injuries after Air Force personnel found her walking on RAF Croughton in February 2006.
As a result, Percy said, she pinched a nerve in her neck and suffered a form of facial paralysis for six months after the incident.
Airman 1st Class Frank McDonald, stationed at Croughton, would face assault charges if the prosecution goes forward.
Two British Ministry of Defence policemen, Barry Athawes and Kenneth Woodhouse, would also be charged with negligence for not protecting Percy’s rights as a British citizen under current agreements between the United States and the U.K. regarding such trespassing incidents.
Under those agreements, only British authorities can detain locals who trespass onto the Air Force bases throughout England.
Percy requested at a hearing this month in the Towcester Magistrates Court that the government’s Crown Prosecution Service take up the case.
The CPS is comprised of government prosecutors, and a decision on whether the agency will take up Percy’s case will be decided before the next scheduled hearing on March 30, according to Lawrence English, the district crown prosecutor for Northamptonshire, the county where Croughton is located. Based on its review of the evidence, the CPS can decide to prosecute the case, take it and then drop it or decline it altogether, English said.
Lower-level British courts previously denied Percy the right to prosecute, but judges with Britain’s High Court overturned those rulings last month.
The Air Force was notified Feb. 18 of Percy’s intent to bring charges against McDonald, according to Maj. John Haynes, a spokesman for the 3rd Air Force, which oversees the service’s units in England. McDonald did not respond to requests for comment.
Haynes said in an e-mail this month that the Status of Forces Agreement, which covers troops in Europe has “provisions relating to the division of criminal jurisdiction.” “McDonald will have the protection of those provisions,” he said.
McDonald, Athawes and Woodhouse were not at the preliminary hearing earlier this month. There was no requirement for them to be present, Haynes said.
Haynes said it would be “inappropriate” to say any more about the issue since it’s an ongoing legal matter.
Similar cases have been brought against U.S. airmen here, Haynes said, but were dropped because the U.K. court concluded it did not have jurisdiction.
Percy said she is pursuing charges to keep the U.K. and U.S. government accountable.
“It’s about the American military doing just what they want, and the Ministry of Defence standing by and watching a crime happening and not intervening,” said Percy, an anti-war activist arrested approximately 40 times in 2005 alone in front of or inside Air Force bases in England.
Percy said the charges against her for trespassing filed in connection to the Croughton incident were dropped in late 2006 due to a technicality involving which MOD officer gave her a warning when she was on the base.
Percy, who has sought legal action against base-related personnel in the past, said parts of the process to prosecute the three men can be “very lengthy, very torturous,” but that she’s ready to go as far as is needed.
Percy has also questioned base security in general.
“The worrying thing is sometimes they don’t even know I’m there,” she said. “They’re very vulnerable, these bases.”