The Glasgow Guardian reports on the three activists from Palestine Action who stood trial last week following the destruction of £1.5 million worth of equipment at the Thales Group factory in Glasgow last year.
On 11 July 2022, members of Palestine Action occupied and dismantled the Thales Group factory in the south of Glasgow. Thales Group, one of the largest weapons manufacturers in the world, produces machinery used for defence and security purposes. One of these weapons, The Watchkeeper drone, has been built in collaboration with Elbit Systems, an Israel-based weapons company, and has been used to monitor populations in Iraq, Palestine, and Afghanistan.
The team who took part in this operation “[forced] workers to evacuate, [prevented] site operations and [… damaged] site facilities,” causing an alleged £1.5 million in damages. What Palestine Action argues is that the destruction these weapons would have caused to Palestinians’ lives is incomparable.
As a result, three members of this operation stood trial on the week beginning Monday 20 November at Glasgow Sheriff Court on charges of “malicious mischief” and “reckless endangerment”. In response, every morning last week, supporters of the Thales 3 have organised a show of solidarity for the defendants to be held outside Glasgow Sheriff Court.
Since 20 November, crowds of 20 to 60 people have shown up to distribute tea, coffee and free food, and provided facepaint and banners. Organisers of “Shut Thales Down” have also instructed that demonstrators put flags away and remain respectful when going into the courtroom, to allow a fair trial for the defendants.
Participants in this demonstration agreed to speak to The Glasgow Guardian about Thales Group, the trial of the Thales 3, and the work being done to support them.
“What we’re arguing for is that [Thales] is committing the crime in the first place by selling the weapons to Israel,” an anonymous 21-year-old medical student from the University of Glasgow argued. When asked about what they saw as the best outcome for this trial, they believed that it would be if the jury realised “that [the morality] is more important than [the crime]” adding: “If they don’t […] and these three people go to jail and Thales gets away scot-free that’s disgusting and inhumane.”
When asked if they wished to send a message to any activists, they told The Glasgow Guardian: “to all the people who feel like they can’t do anything, you’re probably right you can’t do anything individually, but finding people you can do things with will take you much further.”
This feeling of hope and optimism has been reflected throughout many of the supporters of the Thales 3, with chants such as “I believe that we will win” being repeated throughout the week.
In an incredibly emotive speech, one organiser of Shut Thales Down appealed to the crowd to “[build] relationships with each other in all communities”, to show up to demonstrations and forge solidarity. They also spoke about the importance of “taking direction from the global majority”, learning from each other and “from Palestinian resistance and Black liberation [in order to understand] our interconnected struggles.”
Many other speeches that were held over the week also spoke of solidarity, the importance of community and of learning from each other. I talked to a speaker who was one of the organisers of Shut Thales Down. They agreed to speak but chose to remain anonymous to maintain their non-hierarchical approach to organising. When asked about their beliefs on the importance of learning from others, they spoke about how “we’re learning a lot from past movements […] and we have to understand what came before us and what came after us to actually mobilise in this moment of genocide.”
An emphasis on mutual aid and solidarity within and between communities was a key theme throughout the week. When asked about what groups such as Shut Thales Down could learn from other movements happening in Palestine, as well as in the Congo and Sudan, they told The Glasgow Guardian: “we don’t know everything, but there are plenty of comrades from the Congo, from Sudan […] they have the answers […] we need to work together because together we have the answers”.
It was hard to ignore how intertwined the trial of the Thales 3 and the ongoing genocide in Palestine were. Throughout the week people handed out watermelon slices (a symbol of national identity and resistance in Palestine) and Palestinian songs were played from loudspeakers as supporters danced and sang. “Having people show up makes us hopeful that we’re on the right side of history”, one of the organisers told The Glasgow Guardian. “Palestinians are teaching us life right now…They still find hope and resistance to fight back […] it’s almost like, how dare we be hopefully here when they are over there”.
This case has taken over a year to be brought to trial, after the defendants previously stood in court for four days beginning on 9 August 2023. Issues with the jury, as well as court dates being extended, has meant it has taken over a year for a verdict to be reached. One of the defendants, Cat Scothorne, a 20-year-old student from Glasgow University, spoke to The Glasgow Guardian about their thoughts on coming into the trial: “I’ve done trial before but this is definitely the highest consequence one so I was quite nervous as I would really like to continue my final year [at university] but I will have to drop out if I get custody for this”.
During this trial, Cat has been faced with both charges of “malicious mischief” and “reckless endangerment” due to the actions of the defendants at Thales. “We were all agreed that we wanted to cause damage of some kind because there is a difference between occupying a factory […] and actually disabling it […] we wanted to be as effective as possible.” Whilst perhaps these charges are not a surprise due to the defendants’ roles in the destruction of £1.5 million worth of machinery, Cat felt as if the principle of what they were doing appeared much more important: “When somebody drops a bomb on civilians somebody has […] ordered that bomb to be dropped and somebody has made a profit […] I read about Thales, and I couldn’t believe they were on our doorstep […] and so [I knew] something had to be done.”
On the discussion of the charges, Cat felt optimistic that they wouldn’t be found guilty of “reckless endangerment”, however, felt less optimistic on the charges of “malicious mischief”: “I don’t think people [the jury] are at that point yet to go against what Sheriff is telling [them] to do,” Cat explained. “There seems to be quite a lot of trust in law and order here [in Scotland] which is sad […] we might not be found guilty of the second charge (reckless endangerment) […] the evidence is in our favour.”
“I’d be happy to do lots of community service […] I wouldn’t even mind getting an ankle tag […] I’d be happy with anything other than custody,” Cat responded when asked about what they could see as the result of the case. “I’ve got this presentation due on resistance to borders for history and it would be so perfect if I had an ankle tag for the presentation just to prove the point.”
As of Tuesday 28 November, the Thales 3 were found not guilty of reckless endangerment, and guilty to malicious endangerment. They now await sentencing on 23 January 2024.