British protester acquitted after jury deadlocks
Stars and Stripes June 8, 2007
RAF MILDENHALL, England — A British man was acquitted Wednesday of attempting to set fire to U.S. bombers at RAF Fairford on the eve of the Iraq war, following a jury’s failure to reach a decision.
Judge Thomas Crowther declared Josh Richards, 34, not guilty at Bristol Crown Court around 4 p.m. Wednesday after more than nine hours of jury deadlock, Richards’ attorney, Robbie Manson, said Thursday.
On March 18, 2003, Richards was caught at the RAF Fairford perimeter allegedly attempting to enter the base with two pairs of pliers, two cigarette lighters and two 5-liter containers of gas mixed with dish detergent.
This week’s trial was Richards’ second for the arson charge, after another jury failed to return a decision earlier this year.
Originally, the charges against Richards included aggravated attempted arson, aggravated “going equipped to commit criminal damage” and damaging the base fence, Manson said. By last week, the prosecution had reduced or dropped most of the charges, and only attempted arson and a charge of cultivation of cannabis remained, Manson said.
On Wednesday, Richards pleaded guilty to the cannabis charge — the plant was found during a search of his home after his arrest — and received a 250-pound — about $500 — fine, Manson said.
Richards is one of a group of activists popularly referred to as the “Fairford Five” for their attempts to enter Fairford in 2003 and the various legal actions against them in the aftermath.
Two others, Toby Olditch, 38, and Philip Pritchard, 36, were cleared last week of charges of trespassing and conspiracy to cause criminal damage for breaking onto the base with nuts and bolts intended to be lodged in planes’ turbines, according to media reports. The final two, Paul Milling and Margaret Jones, will be retried in July on charges related to their alleged disabling of support vehicles at Fairford in the same time frame.
Anti-war activists have hailed the not-guilty verdicts as victories for citizens’ right to actively protest the war.
“We’re very pleased with the result. [It] upholds people’s right to protest,” said David Cockcroft, spokesman for a now-disbanded group called the Gloucestershire Weapons Inspectors.
The U.S. Air Force had little to say about the case, and responded to a query with the re-release of an earlier statement given on the Olditch and Pritchard case, issued through 3rd Air Force spokesman Maj. John Haynes.
“We have full confidence in the British legal system and the force protection provided in and around RAF Fairford. We have and will continue to work closely with our Ministry of Defence counterparts to protect our installations, assets and people,” Haynes said.