by Christopher Rails A CATHOLIC priest was among four Catholic peace protesters sent to the cells by a Bow Street magistrate last week for contempt, after they tried to make speeches tojustify pouring their own blood on the steps of the Ministry of Defence in London.
Later, the magistrate, Mr Ronald Bartle, set the four defendants free by conditionally discharging them for a year. The proceedings ended in uproar, with the defendants protesting that their defence had not been heard, and the clerk of the court explaining that they could not refuse the order.
Mgr Bruce Kent was among the 60 or more supporters who crowded Into the court. Most were members of Pax Christi, the Catholic peace organisation, and Christian CND. Some came from Greenham Common.
The four protesters, members of a group called Catholic Peace Action, were arrested on April 14 after they sprinkled their own blood, and ashes, on the windows, floor, and pillars of the entrance to the Ministry of
Defence building in Horseguards' Avenue.
Fr Tony Bartlett, 36, a Claretian priest from Hayes, Middlesex, is the first priest in Britain to be brought to court for protesting against nuclear weapons.
The other defendants were Sarah Hipperson, 55, a former magistrate and mother of five, Linda Erewin, 19, and Pat Gaffney, 25.
All four were sent to the cells for contempt after they persisted in trying to make statements criticising the nuclear arms race, which the magistrate( regarded as political, and not relevant to their part in the demonstration at the MoD.
After the case, Fr Bartlett said "We considered our statement to be our defence. I'd like them to have been accepted as that. We came here to declare that nuclear weapons are immoral."
He said there had been a political decision to stifle the protest. The charge of criminal damage had been reduced to an offence under the Metropolitan Pollee Act of marking buildings, so they could not have their case heard by a jury . The magistrate had refused to hear their vase, and they had been let off "scot free".
Barbara Eggleston of Christian CND said the law seemed determined not to make any Christian mart} rs for the CND cause.
Catholic. Peace Action explained that blood and ashes were used to demonstrate the Christian origins of their resistance. Blood symbolised, for instance the blond of Christ and of the martyrs and ashes were a symbol of repentance.