Ciaron O'Reilly and others in court after demonstration on 10 December 2001 at Northwood military HQby Stephen Hewitt
On 28 March 2002 at Dacorum Magistrates Court in Hemel Hempstead Ciaron O'Reilly, 41, Susan Clarkson, 55 and Scott Albrecht, 39 received a conditional discharge for criminal damage after red paint was put onto a sign outside the military Northwood Headquarters in Hertfordshire during a demonstration there on 10 December 2001.
The three were found guilty of criminal damage and given the conditional discharge for 12 months and ordered jointly to pay £200 compensation, but the prosecution application for costs was refused.
This followed their arrest on 10 December 2001 at the demonstration outside Northwood Headquarters, Sandy Lane, Northwood, Hertfordshire HA6 3HB.
Red paint was put onto a sign at the entrance to the base. They set up small placards, knelt under the sign and prayed until they were arrested.
In a statement to police after his arrest, which was read out in court, Ciaron O'Reilly said:
OK I don't regard any action I took this morning as either criminal or damaging. Under the public nature of the action I took this morning was to aware police officers and members of the public to crimes being inspired and committed in Northwood, which would include the ongoing sanctions against Iraq, that have killed over half a million children, and the indiscriminate nature of the aerial bombardment in Afghanistan, and how Northwood has contributed to that, and also the continuing support of the Saudi Arabian dictatorship who produced the Taliban and Al quaeda Network. So that's it for me.
A police video played in court showed Ciaron O'Reilly, Susan Clarkson and Scott Albrecht kneeling under the sign praying, and then showed them being peacefully arrested and led into a police van. It also showed a group of people demonstrating nearby. The sound of melodic chanting and a slow drumbeat could be heard on the video.
Around a dozen friends and supporters attended court, and some of them also mounted a small demonstration with banners on a nearby busy street. The case was heard by three magistrates and lasted all day.
The background to the demonstration at Northwood was the rising number of civilian victims of the aerial bombing campaign against Afghanistan. See for example "The innocent dead in a coward's war", Seumas Milne, Guardian, 20 December 2001 which reports the work of Professor Herold of the University of New Hampshire in the USA who compiled from published news stories a dossier of civilian deaths in Afghanistan which received international attention. For example the dossier is mentioned by the New York Times at http://www.nytimes.com/uwire/uwire_VXQB021320023288451.html
The following are excerpts from the police interviews with each of the three defendants at Rickmansworth Police Station, in the afternoon 10 December 2001. The interviews were read out in court.
Excerpts from the police interview with Scott AlbrechtDC Hutchings:
Can you explain to me what, what it is?Scott Albrecht:
"Northwood is the command and control centre for the war in Afghanistan. It's part of a chain of command, originating in Tampa, Florida, through the Ministry of Defence, through Northwood to the SAS and to, to ground troops in Afghanistan."DC Hutchings:
Right. OK.Scott Albrecht:
"The decisions are made at Northwood as to whether or not to perform bombing sorties, and to send, to send troops in to kill other people, including civilians."DC Hutchings:
and, andScott Albrecht:
"The purpose of our visit was to commemorate the civilian dead in Afghanistan, to remember them".DC Hutchings:
But, but why Northwood?Scott Albrecht:
Because Northwood is complicit in the death of civiliansThe following is a later part of the interview PC Davies:
Did you have permission to damage the signboard?Scott Albrecht:
It presumes the signboard is damaged.PC Davies:
The sign, the sign has been damaged, yes.Scott Albrecht:
From, in some estimations it may more accurately represent what the base is all aboutPC Davies:
Meaning what?Scott Albrecht:
Well meaning that if the if the base is about committing murder, the sign represents that more accurately because red is symbolic of death. And some some may assume that the sign is damaged, others may assume that it more accurately represents the goings on at the base. I, I take the latter position.
Excerpt from the police interview with Susan Clarkson
Could you explain to me your part in, in what happened this morning?
Yes. This morning I went to Northwood Headquarters in a desire to, to express my sorrow about the war that is going on in Afghanistan and war making in general, which has its, often its inspiration from places like Northwood Headquarters. And my intention was simply to do a symbolic action to turn the sign of the Northwood Headquarters into a shrine for the dead. And to this end I placed red paint as a symbol of blood on the sign and the paint which also was on my hands, is a sign to me of my own complicity as a, a member of a citizen of this country in the war making machine. After placing red paint on the sign, I turned round, knelt down and placed in front of me pictures of the war in Afghanistan. Cards with names of countries where there has been conflict over the past 20 or 30 years, in which our, Britain has been involved, and these cards commemorated the dead of those conflicts. And I spent some time in prayer until the moment I was arrested.
Excerpt from the police interview with Ciaron O'Reilly
OK I don't regard any action I took this morning as either criminal or damaging. Under the public nature of the action I took this morning was to aware police officers and members of the public to crimes being inspired and committed in Northwood, which would include the ongoing sanctions against Iraq, that have killed over half a million children, and the indiscriminate nature of the aerial bombardment in Afghanistan, and how Northwood has contributed to that, and also the continuing support of the Saudi Arabian dictatorship who produced the Taliban and Al quaeda Network. So that's it for me.DC Hutchings:
Will you be wanting to say anything else, or are youCiaron O'Reilly:
No that's all.
Base security officer witness statementIn a witness statement, Nigel Rees, who described himself as "Base Security Officer at Northwood Headquarters" stated
On Monday 10th December 2001, a protest occurred at the base. This was an anti-war protest that was planned. For the purposes of this protest no person was authorised to enter the base or to damage the perimeter fence. It should be mentioned that no person was authorised to enter the driveway at the main gate of the base as this is Crown land and requires the normal security checks and authority
As a direct result of this protest, civilian contractors were given special paid leave as the protest would affect the main entrances to the base. Military personnel within the base were told not to attend the base unless they were on duty or needed for essential duties.
The operational effectiveness of the base has not been affected.
Various reports by Ciaron O'Reilly himself used to be at the following URLs
- Demonstration and token blockade of Northwood military HQ19 January 2003
- External Article: 'FREE MY JAILED ARMY HUSBAND''An Erdington woman is fighting for the release of her husband after he was jailed for opposing the war in Iraq.'
- Guardian article: Anti-war activist Ciaron O’Reilly: conventional protests are 'a dead end' Joshua Robertson, Guardian, Thursday 7 January 2016
- Guardian article: Australian anti-war activist 'among victims of alleged UK police hacking' Joshua Robertson, Guardian, Monday 3 April 2017