14 climate acquittals

IssueFebruary - March 2023
News by PN staff

One of last year’s most talked-about British direct actions ended with Hannah Hunt (23) and Eben Lazarus (22) walking free from court, with £850 fines. The two Just Stop oil supporters had glued a nightmare version of Constable’s The Hay Wain over the painting itself in the National Gallery on 4 July – and glued their own hands to the frame of the painting (PN 2661).

They were found ‘guilty’ of aggravated trespass and criminal damage at Westminster magistrates court on 6 December. The judge rejected the crown prosecution service (CPS) argument for a prison sentence.

A few days later, on 9 December, three Insulate Britain (IB) activists were found ‘not guilty’ of causing a public nuisance at Inner London crown court. Emily Brocklebank (24), Joshua Smith (29) and Gwen Harrison (45) had been arrested at a roadblock on Bishopsgate in the City of London on 25 October 2021.

The jury verdict came despite judge Silas Reid ruling out any legal defence based on the climate crisis, insulation or fuel poverty.

A month later, the same judge made the same ruling in the same court, but the jury once again opted for a ‘not guilty’ verdict for four IB activists on 11 January.

Benjamin Buse (37), Ruth Jarman (59), Sue Parfitt (80) and Christian Rowe (25) had been arrested at an IB roadblock on the M4 on 1 October 2021.

Four other IB campaigners arrested at the same blockade weren’t so lucky on 19 January, being found ‘guilty’ (by a jury) of causing a public nuisance. Ruth Cook (70), Roman Paluch (29), Stephen Pritchard (73) and Oliver Rock (42) will be sentenced on 10 March.

These were the first Insulate Britain convictions.

Meanwhile, seven Just Stop Oil (JSO) activists won ‘not guilty’ verdicts at City of London magistrates’ court in two separate trials.

District judge Louisa Ciecióra acquitted Harvey Belcher, Zoë Dukoff-Gordon, Ben Homfray and Anthony Loukes of obstruction of the highway on 16 January. Her colleague Nina Tempia acquitted Kay Wagland, Jo Shipham, and another defendant of the same offence the next day.

Blocking a London road on 30 October 2022 to campaign against new fossil fuel licences was a proportionate form of disruptive protest, the two judges found, using the Ziegler precedent (see PN 2660).

At the time of writing, there are 11 JSO activists in prison awaiting trial or serving sentences. The most high-profile is Extinction Rebellion co-founder Roger Hallam, held since 6 November, awaiting trial.