Wednesday, September 10, 2008


A victory in court for Greenpeace activists is raising eyebrows in Britain today. The six were cleared of charges relating to their scaling and painting on the huge chimney of a coal burning plant.

The activists were accused of causing £30,000 of criminal damage to Kingsnorth smokestack from painting. The defence was that they had 'lawful excuse' - because they were acting to protect property around the world "in immediate need of protection" from the impacts of climate change, caused in part by burning coal.

Greenpeace Britain says this is the first case, by the way, where preventing property damage from climate change has been used as part of a 'lawful excuse' defence in Crown Court.)

Judge David Caddick said that the case centred on whether or not the protesters had a lawful excuse for their actions. He told the jury that for a lawful excuse to be used it must be proved that the action was due to an immediate need to protect property belonging to another.

After hearing all of the evidence, the jurors (representatives of ordinary British people) supported the right to take direct action to protect the climate from the burning of coal.

In other words, the jury found their actions justified when considering the damage to property caused around the world by CO2 emissions from the plant.

It didn't hurt that during the trial the world's leading climate scientist, James Hansen, came to court and challenged the government's plans for new coal, calling for Gordon Brown to announce a moratorium on all new coal-fired power plants without carbon capture and storage. The environmental policy adviser for the UK shadow Prime Minister said there was "a staggering mismatch between what we've heard from government and what we've seen from government in terms of policy".

Eon, the owners of the plant, are planning to replace the existing unit with two new coal-fired plants which, if built, would be the first new coal build power plants built for over 20 years. Eon say that the units would produce enough electricity to supply around 1.5million homes.

Ben Stewart, one of the defendants, told the Times: "This verdict marks a tipping point for the climate change movement.

"If jurors from the heart of Middle England say it’s legitimate for a direct action group to shut down a coal-fired power station because of the harm it does to our planet, then where does that leave government energy policy?"

The following is from the BBC.

Power station protesters cleared

Six Greenpeace activists have been cleared of causing criminal damage during a protest over coal-fired power.

The activists were charged with causing £30,000 of damage after they scaled Kingsnorth power station in Hoo, Kent.

At Maidstone Crown Court Judge David Caddick said the jury had to examine whether protesters had a lawful excuse.

The defendants said the protest was lawful because it aimed to prevent damaging emissions. Energy firm E.ON said lives had been put at risk.

Five people who scaled the chimney - Huw Williams, 41, of Nottingham; Ben Stewart, 34, of Lyminge, Kent; Kevin Drake, 44, of Westbury, Wiltshire; Will Rose, 29, of London; and Emily Hall, 34, from New Zealand - were all charged with causing criminal damage.

'Gordon, bin it'

Tim Hewke, 48, from Ulcombe, Kent, accused by the prosecution of organising the protest from the ground, also faced the same charge.

Jurors heard how protesters painted the name "Gordon" on the 200m (650ft) chimney on 8 October last year, in a political protest against the redevelopment of the plant as a coal-burning unit.

They had planned to daub the words "Gordon, bin it" on the stack in a reference to Prime Minister Gordon Brown, but were threatened with a High Court injunction and arrested.

After the hearing, E.ON spokeswoman Emily Highmore said the firm, which is planning to build a coal-fired unit at the plant, was "hugely disappointed".

She said: "We respect people's right to protest, but what Greenpeace did was hugely irresponsible. It put people's lives at risk and that is clearly completely unacceptable."

Ms Highmore called for an "open and honest debate" about the challenges of energy and climate change, but added: "That's a debate that shouldn't be taking place at the top of a chimney stack."

She added: "Our men and women who work at Kingsnorth have a right to go to work to do their lawful business and to do it safely, so we're very concerned indeed about today's outcome."

Outside the court, activist Mr Stewart said the verdict was "a tipping point for the climate change movement".

He said: "When 12 normal people say it is legitimate for a direct action group to shut down a coal-fired power station because of the harm it does to our planet then where does that leave government energy policy?"

Mr Stewart called for "clean technologies" to be used instead of coal.

And he said: "This is a huge blow for ministers and their plans for new coal-fired power stations."

There has been no government response to the verdict.

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