On Monday 1st February 1999 we woke to the news that a very significant dent had been put in the new Trident submarine, HMS Vengeance, in its dock in Barrow-in-Furness. At 5.30 am Rosie James and Rachel Wenham, of the Aldermaston Women Trash Trident affinity group, swam to and boarded the submarine. They painted “Illegal” and “Death Machine” on the sub, draped a banner saying “Women Want Peace” over the conning tower and damaged test equipment before giving themselves up.
Three other pledgers, Ippy, Helen Harris and Louise Wilder, were arrested when they went to the Barrow police station to deliver clothing to the wet-suited swimmers. All five women were accused of causing £25,000 of criminal damage. The reality of ”Yes, we’re really doing it!” hit us when we reached the let-off point said Rachel. We were amazed at how simple it was reaching, getting onto and inside the sub. The action worked on the night due to boldness and luck. If you believe it you can really do it. The funniest thing was the jawdrop response of the security men round the sub. Saying “Alright mate”? to a man who didn’t bat an eyelid at two dripping women with hammers sticking out of their wetsuits was beyond belief. Being in the water with that atrocious construction is something I will never forget. Rosie said “The message I want to pass on to other pledgers about this action is of its simplicity. Once we had realised how vulnerable Vengeance was from the water, the most difficult thing was getting into our wetsuits. Never underestimate that! We can take heart from how dozy they are when there’s not an organised event going on. So all you need is to see a way in, buy the tools, borrow the wetsuits and take the plunge!” It is very difficult to be sure but as time passes it looks more and more likely that their disarmament work did hold HMS Vengeance up for several weeks.
Rachel Wenham and Rosie James were initially charged with causing damage to the submarine’s testing equipment, to an estimated value in excess of £25,000. They eventually came to trial on 25th January 2001 but the judge declared on the 28th that the trial could not proceed. This was because the Crown made a last-minute delivery of evidence regarding the value of the damage caused, which did not provide the defence with the time necessary to seek an independent assessment.
The prosecution began the case by delivering a new witness statement claiming that the damage was valued at £110,000. They then procrastinated for two and a half days and avoided bringing clear evidence to substantiate their new witness statement. Estimates of the value have ranged from zero to almost one million pounds.
Having been instructed on Thursday afternoon by the Judge to produce the necessary evidence, the trial was halted when it became apparent that the lack of substance and vagueness of prosecution evidence demanded independent assessment. As this would mean a substantial delay, a new jury was deemed necessary.
In Manchester on September 20th 2001 a jury found Rosie and Rachel, of Aldermaston Women Trash Trident affinity group, Not Guilty on a minor charge of criminal damage, but told the judge they were unable to reach a majority verdict on the major charge of disarming radar-testing equipment.
After a two-week delay, the Crown Prosecution confirmed that they will continue with the second charge to a third trial, following a mistrial at Lancaster In January, and the hung jury in Manchester.
Rachel’s reaction to hearing that the next trial will be next March, two years after their disarmament action, was “Great! It’s another opportunity to bring the argument against Trident before another British court!”
The refusal to convict the two was particularly encouraging for TP as the jury were only allowed to consider the very narrow grounds of defence of necessity and self defence allowed under English law, the judge having ruled out defences based on international law. In a brief explanation of his rejection of the defence team’s arguments, he made the extraordinary statement that “crimes against humanity are not crimes in English law”. In his summing up he informed the jury that the British government was not committing a crime in preparing or deploying Trident. However, the jury were evidently not entirely convinced.
The powerful testimony of the expert witnesses must have left a lasting impression on the jury: Paul Rogers of Bradford Peace Studies calmly outlining how close to ’accidental’ nuclear war the world has been; Angie Zelter dealing with TP’s and other’s exhaustive efforts to get the legal system to deal with the illegality of Trident; and Rebecca Johnson, a defence analyst, emphasising how the British government continues to rely on Trident as a first strike weapon.
But above all, it was the straightforward and dignified explanations of Rosie and Rachel from the witness box which must have brought home to the jury the rightness of the action. Rosie described making paper cranes after hearing the story of Sadako as a child, and how she swam out to the submarine to protect everyone she cared about. Rachel, when asked what she thought they had achieved by their action, replied simply ’It worked’.
Perhaps the best part of the trial was hearing, through the guarded statements of prosecution witnesses, that the action had indeed worked- for a certain length of time, perhaps weeks, perhaps even months, one quarter of Britain’s nuclear fleet was delayed from deployment.
Rosie And Rachel Discharged!
Aldermaston Women Trident Trashers Rosie James and Rachel Wenham were discharged at Manchester Crown Court on 4th October 2001 after the jury (again!) could not reach a verdict. Since their brilliant Barrow action in February 1999, which held up HMS Vengeance for a month, the legal process has been long and weary. Rachel said: ” I feel great – this is an excellent outcome. It’s good to know that at least three people -probably more – knew we were justified in our action and held out for that.” It has always been hard to imagine any jury convicting Rachel and Rosie. They were so deliberate and single minded in what they did and so transparent about why they acted. Their action back in the early days of the campaign gave us a tremendous lift and was a model of sheer guts and effectiveness. The trials themselves have exposed the insane violence behind our so-called policy of deterrence -a violence so sadly illustrated these days in the unthinking readiness to go for the war option without considering the potential holocaust that may result.