Hammer Blow

Andrea Needham was one of a small group of women to disarm a warplane waiting to be shipped to Indonesia in 1997 from a Bae factory in Lancashire. We invited her to speak to us on her book tour (promoting The Hammer Blow) to tell us how it came about, what happened and how the remand and trial went.‌

In the introduction we heard the passage from Isaiah 2 talking about turning swords into ploughshares and which gave the imagery for the hammer blow action. We recalled that Martin Luther King was a Baptist preacher and his peacemaking drew deeply from the Christian and Jewish scriptures and the thinking about how to love enemies was very influenced by the practical outworking of that idea by Mohandas Gandhi in relation to disempowered people facing powerful cultural and state forces. MLKPC, with MLK, believe that Jesus' teaching to love our enemies is meant to be taken utterly seriously and not parked in a box marked 'for future consideration'. MLK's practical ideas for training and forming attitudes for difficult situations, we think can be heard echoed in the action that Andrea shares in this talk. One little local note though, the consulting barrister in the trial is someone with local roots here in Ncl: it was Vera Baird who is our elected Police Commissioner. Andrea also mentioned that she was a student at what was then Newcastle Polytechnic.

Andrea began by telling us why the action took place. We were reminded about the Indonesian occupation of East Timor and the apparent indifference of the British government to the likelihood that aircraft bought on license from Britain would be used to terrorise and murder civilians in E.Timor which would be criminal under international law. So having tried with others many, many ways to stop the sale and thus the crime, she with several other women decided to surveille the factory to draw up plans for preventing the export of at least one such warplane. These details, we learnt, we important in their legal defence which was the first to be successful for such actions. We learnt that no such actions in the USA had been successfully defended in court. The title of the presentation and the book ‘The Hammer Blow’ refers to the way that the aircraft was ‘vandalised’ –we saw photos!

It was surprising to learn how easy it had been for them to break in and how they had to tip off the security people in the end that they were there. It was interesting to hear how they had a respectful reception by the other prisoners when they were on remand (bail having been refused because they we considered likely to repeat the offence). We heard how this was the first all-women action of this kind.  Their defence was that they had good cause for the action, having tried all other reasonable means to stop the illegal actions that would be perpetrated by the use of the warplanes. The Jury, to the surprise, apparently, of the judge found them not guilty. It was heartening to hear of the support of one of the local RC churches in Liverpool (where the case was heard) for the women: holding prayer vigils and showing up in support by a variety of means.

There was a great discussion after the main presentation with some great questions. One of the things that emerged in conversation was the presence of BAe in Newcastle and whether a divestment campaign –if the universities were investors- might be an appropriate next step. Please do join us as we discuss that and related possibilities.

It was good to see about 20 people at the meeting including some who subsequently signed up to receive MLKPC mailings.