On 21st December 2009, anti-arms-trade campaigners wrote to Nottingham-based arms company Heckler & Koch outlining their grave concerns about the company’s business activities, including the supply of weapons to repressive regimes. The open letter asked H&K to account for its dodgy dealings and provide assurances that its weapons would not be used to commit human rights abuses.
Heckler & Koch failed to reply, so 28 days later, groups of concerned citizens set out to audit the arms company and to pose the question to the people of Nottingham: “What are they hiding?”
One group of citizen auditors headed to the arms company’s secret warehouse; the unmarked Unit 3 at Easter Park on Lenton Lane. Going by the name of Artichokes War, they carried with them a letter reiterating the need for H&K to address public concerns, and inviting the company to give any reasons for its failure to be transparent.
Nottinghamshire police usually prevent any suspected campaigners from entering Easter Park on foot, so to avoid being stopped, the auditors simply entered the industrial park in a taxi. Once inside, they auditors approached the gate of Heckler & Koch under the watchful eye of two officers.
The auditors buzzed the intercom and a female employee responded. They explained to her that they were there to personally deliver a letter. The disembodied voice asked them to just leave their letter on the ground by the car park gate, but the auditors stood their ground. This was a registered delivery, they explained. They needed a signature. The intercom spoke again: Someone would be out shortly to collect the letter.
Five minutes passed… ten minutes… No-one emerged from the arms company’s secure warehouse. The police came over to find out what the auditors were up to, then went away again.
Finally, after half an hour of waiting, one of the auditors climbed over the barbed fence into the employees car park and walked up to the front door and rang the bell. No-one responded, so he pushed the letter through the letterbox and returned to the car park gate… only to find that he had now become a prisoner of Heckler & Koch!
It seems that the arms company were so afraid of the citizens’ audit that they dared not even buzz open the car park gate. Unable to climb back out the way he had got in, the auditor remained trapped until the police intervened.
Sadly, due to H&K’s reticence, the auditors failed, not only to review H&K’s sales records, but even to get a signature for their delivery. Fortunately there’s more than one way to record a delivery, and the auditors’ video record shows that the arms company has received the letter outlining concerns about its dodgy export deals. As to why the company has failed to reply; in the words of one auditor, “Maybe they have something to hide.”
Street Theatre: What are they hiding?
Meanwhile, in the city centre, a group of activists was creating a curious spectacle for the public. A giant and mysterious object, covered by green tarpaulin and camo netting appeared on Market Square, surrounded by placards asking “What’s going on?” and “What are they hiding?”
When bemused passers by approached, the sound of gunfire was heard from under the tarpaulin, which promptly collapsed. The tarp was then drawn aside, revealing a tangled pile of bodies representing the victims of H&K weapons.
Passers by stopped to chat with the campaigners and were interested to learn about the local arms company and its refusal to answer questions about its dodgy arms exports. This piece of hastily-devised street theatre was replayed at Speakers’ Corner and by St Peter’s Church, where it attracted the most interest.
Finally, having collected many petition signatures and handed out thousands of leaflets, the campaigners marched single file bearing placards out to Heckler & Koch’s home on Lenton Lane. Despite being denied entry to Easter Park by Nottinghamshire Police, the activists ended their long day of campaigning in high spirits.
Most of the street theatre group and the citizen auditors were veteran peace activists from around the country (and around the world), who were in Nottingham to attend the Peace News Winter Gathering. It meant a lot to local campaigners to have their support. The campaign against Heckler & Koch will keep pressing for answers in the year to come.