Jury delivers not guilty verdict for activist who occupied Grenfell cladding company factory

Arconic protest Grenfell Israel Palestine
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A jury has found an activist who occupied cladding company Arconic’s offices not guilty. The company produced the cladding and insulation for Grenfell Tower. Arconic also makes parts for fighter jets Israel uses against the Palestinian people. So, the defendant’s victory was a victory not only against Arconic, but also Israel’s ongoing apartheid.

Shutting down Arconic for Grenfell and Palestine

On 14 June 2021, activists from campaign group Palestine Action occupied and shut down Arconic’s factory in Birmingham:

As Palestine Action noted in a press release:

Read on...

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Arconic manufactured and supplied the cladding and insulation system in the Grenfell Tower, which Fire Expert Witnesses have found “substantially to blame for the tragedy and that the panels were “the primary cause of upward vertical fire spread, downward vertical fire spread, and lateral fire spread”. 72 people were killed in the preventable fire.

Over two days, activists began dismantling the site:

The local community also came out in support:

The police response was predictably violent:

However, the fire service refused to assist the cops in removing protesters from the roof. Eventually, police arrested two activists:

One of those activists was Sohail Sultan. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) charged him with criminal damage, and his trial began on 2 October.

Enough flag waving: direct action is needed

On Thursday 5 October, the jury unanimously found Sultan not guilty of criminal damage against Arconic. As Palestine Action said in a press release:

They took 3 hours and 25 minutes to deliberate on whether the action taken which cost Arconic over £500K was done to protect property in Palestine and/or in necessity to save lives.

Specifically, on top of Arconic producing the Grenfell cladding, the company is complicit in Israel’s apartheid against the Palestinian people. Palestine Action noted:

On top of this unsafe cladding, Arconic manufactures components and materials for Boeing Apache Helicopters and Lockheed Martin F-35 Fighter Jets. Both of these are routinely deployed by the Israeli military in aerial assaults on Gaza, including in the May 2021 bombardments which killed 230 Palestinians including 65 children. One of Arconic’s major shareholders – Elliot Investment Management – was founded by Paul Singer, who has funnelled money into Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the ‘friends of the IDF’, and anti-BDS organisations.

During the four-day trial, Sultan said:

It’s one thing to stand on the ground, wave a flag and hope it makes the news, it’s another to stand on a roof and stop the production of F-35 fighter jets that kill innocent people.

Clear, Sultan and his fellow activist’s motivations resonated with the jury. As Palestine Action noted:

The not guilty verdict was reached after the jury deliberated on whether or not Sohail’s action was taken to immediately protect property in Palestine and in necessity to save lives.

A bittersweet victory?

Palestine Action said that the verdict was:

A monumental victory not only for a principled actionist, but for the campaign against companies who profit from massacring people in Palestine and Grenfell. The verdict strongly suggests that the public agree it is Arconic who is guilty for their crimes in Palestine and Grenfell, not those who take action against them.

The case follows on from a similar trial of two Palestine Action activists whom the CPS charged with obstructing the highway. It was over them blockading an Elbit Systems-owned company which makes drone parts. In their case, the judge acquitted them on the basis that their actions were proportionate.

However, these cases contrast with a judge jailing Palestine Action activist Mike Lynch-White for over two years. He was involved in the occupation and shutting down of another drone part manufacturer that supplies Israel. So, while Sultan’s victory is to be celebrated – it’s worth remembering that not all activists standing up to oppression have been so fortunate.

Moreover, as always, all this pales in comparison to what the people of Grenfell have been, and continue to go, through – and likewise, the Palestinian people.

Feature image via Palestine Action

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