LAW Lords have ruled anti-war campaigners had their rights violated by Gloucestershire police when they were stopped on their way to RAF Fairford.

The 120 protesters had their coaches stopped in Lechlade on March 22, 2003 on their way to protest at the air base about the impending war in Iraq.

Their two coaches were detained and then escorted non-stop back to London by police vans.

The High Court and Court of Appeal have already ruled that police acted unlawfully by detaining the protesters but the House of Lords on Wednesday decided their right to freedom of movement and lawful assembly was also infringed upon.

Lawyers for the police argued they were protecting the protester's lives, which would have been at risk if they broke into the base, used to house B-52 bombers involved in operations in Iraq.

There had been several previous incidents at the site, including damage to the 13.5-mile perimeter fence and several military vehicles.

In the most recent judgement Lord Bingham said: "I would acknowledge the danger of hindsight and I would accept that the judgement of the officer on the spot, in the exigency of the moment deserves respect.

"It was entirely reasonable to suppose that some of those on board the coaches might wish to cause damage and injury to the base at RAF Fairford, and to enter the base with a view to causing further damage and injury."

Sue Davis, one of the protestors on the Fairford coaches, said: "We have a right to protest and I am relieved that this right has been upheld. This ruling has eased my cynicism about our democracy and the erosion of our rights."

Anti-war pressure groups around the country have also welcomed the ruling.

Kate Hudson, chairman of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said: "Over the past few years the government has been slowly eroding the people's right to peaceful protest. Today's ruling shows the Lords still believe the people in a democracy have a right to make their voices heard."

A spokesman for Gloucestershire Constabulary said: "The fact that it has taken three years and three separate court hearings to determine that police had acted unlawfully - indeed two of these courts judged that Gloucestershire police had acted lawfully with regards to the stopping of the three coaches - demonstrates the complexity of the issues the operational commander had to consider.

"Despite this Gloucestershire Constabulary accepts the judgement and we will be reviewing our policies accordingly.

"The force would like to take this opportunity to express its regret for any inconvenience caused to the peaceful protestors."