Prosecution attempts to pick holes in account of Jewish campaigner for Palestinian human rights and anti-arms industry activist draw groans
On Tuesday, Skwawkbox attended the trial at Wolverhampton Crown Court of five Palestine Action (PA) activists charged by the state with planning to damage the Shenstone, Lichfield factory of Israeli weapons manufacturer Elbit Sytems, when left activist Tony Greenstein was giving evidence.
Elbit Systems in the UK manufactures systems for military drones used by the Israeli and other militaries, often against civilians – the company’s weapons and personnel, for example – according to Israeli media, reportedly confirmed by an Israeli military spokesperson – played a role in Israel’s 11-day assault on Gaza in 2021 that left 248 Palestinians dead and hundreds more injured.. The United Nations human rights organisation has called for a boycott of Elbit and other companies – and the business has reportedly already closed two UK facilities after occupations and protests by Palestine Action.
Greenstein spent the whole day on the stand as the prosecution’s barrister attempted repetitively to grill him about his involvement in the unsuccessful attempt to ‘redecorate’ the Shenstone factory in red to symbolise the blood of civilian victims of Elbit weapons. He freely admitted driving the group to the factory with paint and ladders and and that he expected them to occupy and daub the roof of the facility – which he called ‘redecorating’ it – but insisted that he had no detailed knowledge of what was planned apart from the obvious presumed use for the large quantities of red, he believed washable, paint and had no involvement beyond acting as driver, though he fully supported PA’s aims.
However, the prosecution appeared keen to imply that Greenstein played a more central role in organising the protest and that more serious action was intended, which led to one of the more bizarre passages of the examination.
The prosecuting barrister insisted to Greenstein that his blue disabled badge had been found, based on the evidence of a detective constable, in the rear compartment of the van, physically separated from the driver’s seat and where the paint and other items had been been found by police and that this implied he had done more than simply load one item and drive the van. Greenstein insisted he had no idea how that could be possible as the badge remained on the van’s dashboard throughout.
When the detective’s evidence was read back, however, she had initially said she couldn’t recall where the badge had been found, but then looked at her notes at the invitation of the prosecution and decided it had been in the rear compartment.
However, Greenstein’s fellow defendant Helen Caney drew defence barristers’ attention to the fact that the evidence bundle included police photographs of the impounded van that clearly, according to Greenstein and others able to view them and comment, showed the blue badge – on the dashboard as Greenstein had insisted.
Despite this, the prosecuting barrister immediately proceeded to try to discredit the photographic evidence, claiming that what it showed could not be a blue badge because the police officer said she had found it in the rear compartment and the document on the dashboard was too large to be a blue badge. The judge paused the proceedings to sum up for the jury the conflicting evidence.
A century out and a misplaced SAR
The prosecutor also made a number of errors in her questioning, at one point appearing to ask Greenstein about his activities in two years from the early 1900s, to some audible consternation around the courtroom, though she was not corrected by the court. She also demanded to know whether Greenstein had enquired of the company what it would be producing on the day of the planned action, or phoned it to find out whether it would be open on the day of the protest, or complained to it about its activities, or started petitions against them – and then why Greenstein had not submitted an ‘SAR’ or ‘subject access request’ to Elbit about what it was making.
But an SAR is a device for an individual to find out what information an organisation holds about him or her, not for information like production schedules or client lists. And if the barrister meant a Freedom of Information Request, only public bodies have to respond to those – not commercial companies such as Elbit.
In an apparent attempt to undermine the defence of co-accused Helen Caney that she had not intended to take part in the occupation of the factory, the prosecutor also repeatedly demanded that Greenstein explain why, if Caney was ill as he claimed and wanted to be dropped off at a nearby rail station, Greenstein had not insisted that she take up his offer to drive her to her home in Reading en route back to Brighton or personally researched rail timetables. Greenstein responded that he had made the offer out of concern for Caney’s wellbeing but had no power to force her to accept it and she had insisted on catching a train even though it was likely to mean a wait at the station.
The prosecution then asked Greenstein when he had told his barrister about Caney’s illness. The defence objected that answering this question mean a breach of privileged communications between her and her client, but the judge overruled her point and said the question was in order. The prosecutor put it to Greenstein that he had only come up with the idea of Caney’s illness as some sort of coordination of defences, which Greenstein dismissed.
A persistent feature of the hearing was the judge’s rapid orders to Greenstein to stop talking if Greenstein attempted to add political context about the realities in Palestine, or even Elbit’s record of its weapons taking civilian lives. Despite this, Greenstein made his point on a number of occasions, including comparing direct action, aimed at disrupting production of weapons, to criminal damage caused to a door in order to save people from a fire, which would never result in a prosecution – and reminding the jury of the suffragettes, whose protests were considered illegal at the time but later rightly lauded.
Butter wouldn’t ‘Met’
And there was laughter and incredulity in the public gallery when the barrister demanded, during an attempt to obtain the names of further PA contacts, to know why Greenstein and other protesters would be careful about mentioning names during telephone calls out of fear of police surveillance, because the police would not act unlawfully or monitor protesters unnecessarily. During last week’s proceedings, a Metropolitan Police officer had given evidence to the court that surveilling Palestine Action was his full-time job.
Greenstein’s attempt to point out the numerous occasions on which police have infamously acted illegally in surveillance of left-wing protest groups was shut down. He refused to accede to the prosecution’s demand to name PA contacts in Brighton who had participated in organising the van and ladders, saying he could not recall them and did not ask for them. The prosecutor expected Greenstein to know why the group had put ladders in his hired van in Brighton instead of arranging them local to the Elbit factory. Greenstein responded that he had no way of knowing.
After a full day on the stand, Greenstein’s evidence concluded and he was applauded by supporters in the gallery as proceedings closed, despite the judge’s admonitions to silence. The case continues tomorrow.
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