English Law Lords rule in favor of RAF Fairford protestors
RAF MILDENHALL, England — English peace activists claimed a legal victory in Britain’s highest court Wednesday when the Law Lords ruled police unlawfully violated the activists’ right to protest outside RAF Fairford in 2003.
The decision overturned a High Court ruling that Gloucestershire Constabulary had not violated the protesters’ rights with its decision to force 150 people back to London after they refused to allow them near RAF Fairford, home to the 420th Air Base Squadron.
“The House of Lords judgment is a wake-up call for democracy,” attorney John Halford said in a press release published by the Fairford Coach Action, an ad-hoc group of protesters who collaborated to fight the police’s move.
The incident occurred on March 22, 2003, days after the opening of the war in Iraq, when protesters from across Britain went to RAF Fairford, where B-52 bombers landed en route from the United States to Iraq.
The protesters’ buses were stopped in a town a few miles from RAF Fairford and police conducted forced searches of the occupants, removing a number of personal items including a Frisbee and toy soldiers, according to the Fairford Coach Action.
The buses were then led by police escort back to London. Several occupants had to urinate in bottles along the way as the police didn’t allow the buses to stop at rest areas, the protesters’ group alleged.
A Gloucestershire Constabulary official argued at an October hearing that the agency was acting to protect the protesters since the U.S. military reserved the right to use deadly force in the event of an intrusion onto the base, according to the FCA.
The Law Lords, which serve as England’s highest arbiters of law, were not swayed by the police account and ruled the activists’ rights to protest and freely assemble had been violated.
The constabulary issued an apology to the protesters as part of its two-page statement following the court’s ruling.
“Policing in scenarios such as those faced at Fairford is difficult and complex, with competing rights and responsibilities having to be assessed and acted upon in real time by operational commanders,” the statement read.
Jane Laporte, who was the primary claimant in the suit against the Gloucestershire Constabulary, said Wednesday she was pleased with the ruling.
“The willingness of the police to bow to political pressure, by stifling dissent and arbitrarily detaining protesters in this way, brings the role of the police as facilitators of peaceful protest in to question,” she said in the FCA press release.
England is home to a robust activist community that regularly protests at U.S. Air Force installations across the country.