On Tuesday May 6th around 70 people staged a demonstration against arms manufacturer Heckler & Koch‘s Nottingham-based sales HQ. The aim of this demonstration was threefold – to expose the company’s location, to publicise the unethical nature of its business, and to launch a campaign to shut it down.
Protesters of all ages gathered in the sunshine with a variety of colourful banners and placards, some dressed as casualties of war – a reminder of the 1.5 million people who have been killed by Heckler & Koch’s deadly products. From busy Abbey Bridge, the protesters marched along Lenton Lane to the small industrial park that contains H&K’s unmarked warehouse. Around 40 police were waiting, to prevent entry into the industrial park. Around the corner, mounted police were on standby.
The demonstrators gathered on either side of the gate and listened to speeches about the devastating effect of Heckler & Koch’s weapons in countries around the world. Hundreds of leaflets explaining the purpose of the demonstration were handed out to passers by, some of whom honked their horns in approval. There was a speech about the inspirational Smash EDO campaign, which has been very effective in targeting an arms company in Brighton. A portable sound system played reggae in the sunshine.
Efforts to garner media coverage revealed a famliar pattern: Having received a press release about the demonstration, reporters contacted Heckler & Koch for a statement. To make this unwanted media attention go away, H&K then called Notts police, whose press office called the media outlets, telling their editors that it would be irresponsible for them to cover the story as it could lead to criminals trying to break in to steal weapons stored at Heckler & Koch’s premises.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that this reason is bogus: The fact is that the location of the company is already in the public domain. It is available to anyone with an internet connection, and not just on various campaign websites, but from Companies House and the British Defence Equipment Catalogue and various other sources. If the building can be discovered by peace campaigners, then it can be discovered by criminal gangs.
If the security policy of H&K and Notts police relies on no-one finding out the company’s location, then clearly it is they who are irresponsible, not the campaign or the media. A large warehouse stocked with high-power assault rifles and submachine guns with inadequate security to prevent a robbery is clearly a significant danger to the public, and such a danger is very much in the public interest.
Despite this, some media outlets acquiesced to the police request, choosing to accept self-censorship rather than challenge the police. Fortunately ITV Central News was not scared off, and broadcast a report on the 10 o’clock news.
Despite the lawful nature of the protest, police surveillance was oppressive. Evidence Gatherers from the local force were supplemented by the officers of a Forward Intelligence Team in systematically photographing and filming protesters throughout the demonstration. Two protesters were threatened with arrest for blocking a FIT cameraman’s view of the demonstration, and another two were followed by police after the demonstration.
However, spirits remained high throughout the 90-minute picket – in the words of one protester, “a very dehydrating demonstration of big love!” The demo was judged to be a great success by those who attended. It was a fantastic turn-out, and a good start to the campaign. (Pictures courtesy of Tash. For more see Notts Indymedia.)