Jubilee Ploughshares

Catholics Convert Convoy

3rd November 2000

Between 3am and 5am this morning, Catholic priest Martin Newell and Dutch Catholic Worker Susan van der Hijden, calling themselves ' Jubilee Ploughshares 2000', entered Wittering airforce base in Cambridgeshire, to enact the biblical prophecy; 'They shall beat their swords into ploughshares', by symbolically disabling the Nuclear Weapons Convoy, which transports nuclear warheads to and from British Trident submarines.

The Jubilee Ploughshares 2000 pair set out to damage this essential part of the Trident system. It follows similar acts of disarmament by other members of Trident Ploughshares, the campaign to stop the 'ongoing criminal activity under well recognised principles of international law' which is Trident.

After entering the base, the two disabled a Trident warhead carrier, hammering inside the cab on the dashboard and on other equipment in the back of the cab. Then they painted the words "The Kingdom of God is Among You", "Drop the debt, not the bombs", and "Love is the fulfilment of the Law". They then went in search of the guards and security people in order to tell them of their actions.

In their statement they said: "We have acted in a spirit of repentance for our complicity in crime against humanity and God. We have acted to uphold the law. Through the Jubilee 2000 campaign, the church has committed herself to working for justice for the poor and the oppressed. British nuclear weapons are a central part of the chains of oppression. As Christians we have taken responsibility and acted in solidarity with the 'least of this world'."

Susan van der Hijden, who lives and works with refugees in the Netherlands, said: "I have lived with the victims of international violence for seven years, it is high time to go to the roots of the problem - the rich exploiting the poor - and Trident plays a major part in that."

Fr. Martin Newell said: "We are called to love God, do good and resist evil. Trident is a weapons system of mass-destruction worth 400 Hiroshimas. It is a choice of bread or bombs, education or elimination, healthcare or holocaust. This convoy is equipping the gas-ovens for the Holocaust of the 21st century."

Fr Martin Newell (33), born in Walthamstow, has been a Catholic priest in Canning Town, East London, for three years. He also works with homeless people.

Susan van der Hijden (31), born in Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands, has been a member of the Amsterdam Catholic Worker for seven years, where she lives and works with refugees.

Update: Susan and Martin appeared at Peterborough magistrates the following morning. The only clear charge was a mysterious one of theft, but mention was made of £25000 worth of damage to the truck. They were represented by duty solicitor Damian Willett. They made no plea for bail and a snide remark from the magistrate suggested they would not have got it anyway. They will appear again at the same court next Thursday, 9th November, when presumably the charges will have been formulated. Meanwhile Susan is in Holloway Womens Prison and Martin in Bedford Jail.

Update (9th Nov 2000): Susan van der Hijden and Martin Newell appeared in Peterborough Magistrates Court today. They were further remanded to appear in the same court on 7th December. The charge as of now is "burglary






with intent to cause criminal damage". The estimate of the damage has gone up to £32,000.


Justice Darroch did not allow the defence's legal arguments, based on the illegality of Trident under international humanitarian law, to be put to the jury. Martin's barrister Terry Munyard told the eight men and four women that Martin had acted out of principle - there was nothing criminal in his intentions. History was full of examples of people who had brought about essential change by doing what they knew was right and technically breaking the law, such as the Suffragettes, anti-apartheid activists and Rosa Parks, who had defied segregation laws in Alabama.

In her final speech Susan told the jury that she had no choice but to act as she did. She pointed out that there had already been a number of acquittals of Trident Ploughshares activists. It would be nice if the jury would acquit, but she was only asking them to do what was right according to their own hearts. Wishing them peace in the jury room she sat down.

In summing up Justice Darroch said there were three possible defences in such cases, the defence of necessity, the commission of a crime to prevent a greater crime and the commission of a crime to protect property. He claimed that that none of these could be applied to this particular case. The jury then had 1 hour and 50 minutes of deliberation but had not reached a verdict by the end of the session.


On 25 May, the jury, after deliberating for three hours, found both defendants guilty on the charges of burglary and damaging property by ten to two. They were then released. The barrister defending Father Martin Newall remarked that he had suffered considerable hardship during his time in gaol; not only had it been his first offence, he had been moved to several prisons and both defendants had been virtually isolated from their families. In sentencing them the judge remarked that both were "people of good character" but that they had put the "public purse to considerable expense". Supporters later remarked that the cost of Trident was also a considerable drain on the public purse.