Trials of the climate resistance

IssueOctober - November 2023
News by David Polden

Nonviolent direct action by climate activists has almost ground to a halt recently, in the face of large numbers of such activists being put on trial and being given heavy sentences.

Insulate Britain ended its campaign of road obstructions in 2022.

Just Stop Oil’s only actions since June have involved slow marches in Exeter and Leeds, holding up traffic in its campaign to get the UK to stop giving licences for new oil and gas fields.

Extinction Rebellion (XR) suspended direct action at the start of the year, though it did organise a blockade of Ffos-y-Fran open-cast coal mine in Merthyr Tydfil in July. (PN 2667). The mine, which has been operating illegally after being refused a renewal of its licence, will close on 30 November.


Insulate Britain (IB) reported on 18 September that out of 16 completed jury trials for public nuisance charges, four had resulted in a hung jury, two had resulted in acquittals, 10 had resulted in a guilty verdict. Other trials have been deferred. The Crown Prosecution Service has applied for retrials early in 2024 in the cases of 12 defendants where the jury failed to reach a verdict.

On 27 July, four IB defendants were each sentenced to 140 hours of community service and £3,000 costs at Hove crown court. They had been found guilty of causing a public nuisance by stopping traffic at the Port of Dover on 24 September 2021.

However, unlike many other IB cases, the defendants were allowed to speak for 30 minutes about their motivations for their actions in terms of climate change.

On 9 August, two XR activists, Amanda Fox, 52, and Jennifer Parkhouse, 71, were found guilty of criminal damage by a jury at King’s Lynn crown court. They argued that breaking the windows of the Norwich branch of Barclays in April 2021 was justified in light of the harm caused by Barclays being Europe’s biggest investor in fossil fuels. They will be sentenced at Huntingdon crown court on 3 November.

As PN went to press, we were still awaiting the outcome of an ongoing trial at Southwark crown court of six XR activists charged with spraying 1,800 litres of fake blood on the Treasury offices in Central London in October 2019. The defendants argued the aim was to to draw attention to Treasury funding of new fossil fuel projects across the world.

The jury trial of Gail Bradbrook, co-founder of XR, for breaking a window (valued at £27.5k) at the UK’s department for transport in October 2019 was derailed in July. On its second day, the judge dismissed the jury and set a retrial date of 30 October.

l On 19 September, the student wing of Just Stop Oil wrote to the heads of British universities (the ‘vice-chancellors’) to warn them that they would ‘bring a wave of civil disobedience to their campuses’ if they did not commit to taking arrestable action against global heating.

The JSO students demanded that each vice-chancellor ‘sign and return the attached letter [by 22 September] which gives the government a clear ultimatum: either they stop new oil and gas licences, or you will be duty bound to join your students in slow marches across London to the point that you too will be arrested and imprisoned.’