A few dozen people, including a small ‘critical mass’ style bike ride, took part tonight in a protest outside the traditional dealers’ dinner before the last day of the DSEI international arms fair.
At around 6.30, a bicycle sound system and about ten cyclists rode up the Commercial Road, at the end of their journey from the Bank of England to the ‘Troxy’ venue near Limehouse, where arms dealers from this year’s DSEI arms fair were holding their gala dinner with tables at £2500 each for food, drinks and a boxing tournament, organised to raise money for wounded soldiers – the irony!
At the same time, just as guests began to arrive, two women took up position at the front of the short red-rope walkway to the entrance. They held up their hands, stained red to symbolise blood, and stood completely silent, as police approached and asked them to move.
After a few more minutes, some more protestors approached, quickly blocking the entrance and sitting with a banner bearing the words, “Arms Dealers Here Today – This Is Not OK”.
Despite the attack, she regained her composure and once again stood silently, as other officers moved in and the situation calmed.
As this was happening, more protestors arrived wearing grim reaper costumes and masks, and carrying model scythes. They unfurled a large black banner that read “Think we’re scary? You’ll find Arms Dealers inside”.
Throughout, more guests were arriving, including various military folk in slightly comical red costumes, some with bizarre ceremonial stirrups, and many sporting a small array of medals. Other guests were of course arms businessmen in their suits.
The very occasional female guests, in full dinner gown mode, were told “There’s nothing glamorous about tonight’s dinner”, while the dealers were greeted with chants of “Shame on you, Blood on your hands”.
Police had set up a protest zone 25 metres away on the other side of the busy Commercial Road, but despite the initial warnings, they relented, and the protestors kept their vigil outside the building, a beautifully restored art deco grand cinema now hired out for events, forcing many of the guests to perform a walk of shame along the front of the building behind a police line to reach the doors.
I did discover a back door, heavily policed, where I have no doubt, some special guests slunk in.
As well as an overt Forward Intelligence Team with photographer, and an intrusion of Police Liaison Officers (also known to gather intelligence despite their public face of friendly policing), there were some other people keeping an eye on things. First, across the road was an unmarked surveillance vehicle, with an HD broadcast-quality raised camera, beaming live images via a Land Rover satellite dish vehicle to what the occupants described as a secure server.
They wouldn’t reveal who the client was, but it isn’t thought to be the police. There was also a man taking pictures on his mobile and continually phoning in reports – he has been seen all week at DSEI protests, but refuses to give any information as to his role. He was also joined by an associate with a camera, who has been spotted previously at City protests. And a little way down the road, another younger man sat in a posh BMW for the full two hours, using his phone from time to time. Two other characters, one wearing a discreet earphone, kept an eye on the front of the building.
People acting in a similar manner at previous City protests are known to work for a private security and intelligence company hired by major financial corporations. Clearly similar or the same interests are at work around DSEI.
Around 8.30, the lights at the front of the building went out, and the demonstrators dispersed, as the party continued late into the night at the Troxy.
As is usual at the biennial arms fair, illegal weapons were openly being sold until activists uncovered them and the organisers had to expel them. On this occasion, two companies were found out, and after Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, raised the matter in the House of Commons, they were hastily asked to leave.
Among this year’s guests at the arms fair were Bahrain, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.