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Five anti-war protesters have been found not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court of criminally damaging a US aeroplane at Shannon Airport more than three years ago.
The jury of five men and seven women took four and a half hours to reach its unanimous decision on day 12 of the trial which had been continuously attended by supporters of the activists.
It was the third attempt at trying the five who pleaded not guilty to two counts each of causing damage without lawful excuse to a naval plane, property of the United States government and to glass door panels, property of Aer Rianta at Shannon Airport, Clare on February 3, 2003.
Juries in two earlier trials were discharged before evidence had concluded following suggestions from the defence teams that the presiding judges were, or could have been perceived to have been, biased.
The accused at all stages accepted that they had gone into a Shannon Airport hangar with hammers and damaged the aircraft. They argued that they had a lawful excuse for doing so as they honestly believed they were acting to protect lives and property in Iraq.
The democratic credentials of the Irish public were on display last week when a jury in the Central Criminal Court voted to acquit five protesters who vandalised an American plane at Shannon in February 2003. What made the outcome so surprising is that this looked like an open-and-shut case.
The five had been engaged in an act of violence, they were arrested at the scene and they confessed to their crime. Then their lawyers produced an ace. They introduced a defence of “lawful excuse”, and the jury bought it.
The plane was attacked, the protesters argued, in order to prevent it playing any part in the death and destruction of individuals and property in Iraq. Somehow this defence worked and the five walked.
Precedence plays an important part in Irish law and this case has set down a new and potentially important one. Having succeeded in such spectacular fashion, we can expect criminal defence lawyers to consider the merits of “lawful excuse” much more frequently from now on.
Now a Sinn Fein councillor has started a campaign to have the five made freemen of Dublin, the highest honour the civic authorities can bestow.