Skip to Content

AWE and the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act

Section 128 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, (SOCPA) was introduced at AWE Aldermaston and Bughfield, and other Ministry of Defence (MoD) sites, under the Terrorism Act 2006.

S.128 applies to “Protected” areas inside Aldermaston. It is an offence to “enter or be on” the site “as a trespasser”. The "Protected" areas include most of the land INSIDE the inner fence at AWE Aldermaston, but not including access to the Recreation Society football fields, William Penny Theatre and other areas used by the public, BUT see below for application of s.128 in practice).

The maximum penalty is 51 weeks imprisonment and or a £5,000 fine. Much smaller fines have been imposed at activists arrested at other MoD sites.

A camp woman arrested inside the perimeter fence at Aldermaston in March 2007 had her case dismissed in August 2008 on the grounds that s.128 SOCPA applies only to the Nuclear Licensed Site, and not the entire space within the perimeter fence. the court held that that Juliet McBride had not entered the Nuclear Licensed Site when arrested. The boundaries of the Nuclear Licensed Site are clearly shown on the map issued with the license by the regulating authority, and there are multiple signs attached to the inner fence, clearly marking the area. This means that s.128 SOCPA does not apply to the perimeter fence, the sterile area between the perimeter and inner fences, nor does it apply to people on the inner fence (as in Juliet's case). However, the MoD refuse to accept this, and continue to claim that s.128 applies to ALL land inside the perimeter fence at both AWE Aldermaston and AWE Burghfield.

More on the law
s.128 SOCPA as amended by the Terrorism Act 2006 is virtually a strict liability offence - ie if you trespassed on the nuclear licensed site and you should have known it was one (signs etc), then you are guilty. However, the MOD have interpreted the nuclear licensed site as to be coterminous with the Establishment -ie with the outer perimeter fence of the whole base. In law this is wrong on two counts - one, on statutory interpretation (the words make more sense in relation to the Nuclear Licensed Site as regulated by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate) and two, on interpretation of criminal matters. This says that if there is ambiguity then the interpretation favouring the defendant is to be followed. In addition, since this would occur in a protest setting, Art. 10 European Convention of Human Rights (as incorporated by the Human Rights Act 1998) (should) afford a relatively high level of protection to peaceful political activity.... particularly against unlawful weapons of mass destruction (as if a magistrates' court would ever entertain that argument! As it is a summary only offence, then only the magistrates will hear the case, unless you appeal to the Crown Court after conviction, or go to the High Court on a point of law).

However, despite winning on this point at AWE Aldermaston, the MOD have confirmed that they are sticking with their interpretation of SOCPA relating to the whole Establishment. Of course, at AWE Aldermaston there was additional difficulty in that there are "semi public parts" within the outer perimeter fence (the recreation area/playing fields, social club etc). At AWE Burghfield the old Nuclear Licensed Site was a tiny part of the Establishment. The new NLS, since the start of the new build on the base, is now larger, but it still is smaller than the whole. As there is a wopping great electric fence round the whole place, the point is relatively academic!

s.128 SOCPA also relates to "designated sites". These are sites that the Secretary of State for Defence has designated by Statutory Instrument (secondary legislation) to be covered by SOCPA. These do indeed include the whole of the Establishment as defined by the outer perimeter fence.

For the MoD's justification for introduction of the law, and maps showing Protected areas, see links for AWE Aldermaston and AWE Burghfield at :
http://www.defence-estates.mod.uk/byelaws/WordDocs/Serious_Organised.htm
For the law
see s.12, Trespass on nuclear sites, Terrorism Act 2006
http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2006/pdf/ukpga_20060011_en.pdf
and s.128-131, Trespass on designated site, SOCPA 2005
http://www.uk-legislation.hmso.gov.uk/acts/acts2005/ukpga_20050015_en_1