1996: ‘Hawk Women’ Disarm Fighter Jet

In the small hours of 29th January 1996, three women from the Seeds of Hope East Timor Ploughshares group cut their way through the fence of the British Aerospace factory test site in Warton, Lancashire. Once inside, they located a £13 million Hawk fighter jet, and proceeded to cause two million pounds worth of improvements with some hammers. The cockpit weapons system was disarmed, along with radar controls, the nose cone and wing parts from which bombs are hung. They then painted the plane with peace symbols, and danced around the hangar before ringing the Press Association.

John Major’s Conservative regime had been planning to sell the aircraft to the Indonesian government of General Suharto, which had occupied East Timor since 1975, killing a third of the population. However, the actions of Joanna Wilson and Andrea Needham from Kirkby and Lotta Kronlid from Sweden stopped at least one plane from joining the slaughter.

Four women (the three who broke into the factory plus one supporter) were tried on charges of criminal damage in July 1997 at Liverpool Crown Court. The defence included evidence from journalist John Pilger and the East Timorese leader in exile. The jury eventually found the women not guilty, agreeing with their claims they’d been using reasonable force to prevent a greater crime.

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