12:51 Oct. 10, 2016
Ben Stimson claims he went to eastern Ukraine to drive an ambulance
British prosecutors have accepted that fighting on the side of the Kremlin-backed militants in eastern Ukraine falls under the UK Terrorism Act. Whether or not British national Ben Stimson can convince a UK court that he wasn't really fighting in Donbas, the fact that he is on trial at all is an important precedent, writes Halya Coynash for the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group website.
Police in Manchester said in a statement on September 28 that Stimson was charged with terrorism offences under Section 5 of the Terrorism Act 2006 (Preparation of terrorist acts). He is accused both of 5i – engaging in conduct aimed at committing acts of terrorism and of 5ii - assisting another person to commit such acts. The first carries a sentence of up to 10 years, the second up to life imprisonment.
The preliminary hearing, setting out a timetable for subsequent hearings, took place on Oct 7, with the next due on Nov 4.
41-year-old Stimson is from Oldham, Greater Manchester. He does not deny that he went to Donbas, but appears to have claimed that he went there to drive an ambulance.
This is not the version he gave to a BBC interviewer in October 2015, nor is the impression the photos of him with a rifle, etc. on his social network page gives.
The BBC article was entitled ‘Ukraine conflict: The Brits fighting with pro-Russian rebels'. This states that "Eastern Ukraine is not his first conflict. He claimed he was involved in Bosnia, and says he thought about joining the Kurdish Peshmerga in northern Iraq."
The report says that lack of work at home, and ideology prompted him live "with a group of rebel soldiers, just north of the city of Debaltseve in rebel-held territory".
Stimson claims in that long interview that the BBC manipulated him, and deceived him by getting him to pick up a rifle. He does not explain why there are similar images of him in camouflage gear and holding weapons on his social network page.
He does in fact say later that he was in the ‘militia' and "stuck in a trench with a rifle", though asserts that he was trying to get out of the militia and do what he's allegedly gone there to do, drive ambulances.
Ukraine's Ambassador to the UK Natalya Halybarenko believes that the Stimson trial is important precisely because Stimson is charged with terrorism. She sees the trial as effective confirmation that what is happening in eastern Ukraine is not a civil conflict, but the activity of terrorist organizations, which are financed and sponsored by Russia.
It is unclear as yet what evidence has been gathered against Stimson, and what the prosecution's case will entail.