On the morning of 17th April this year, in support of Extinction Rebellion actions which brought roads across London to a standstill, two people climbed on top of a Docklands Light Railway train at Canary Wharf and glued their hands to the roof, while another glued themselves to the carriage below.
They were aiming to disrupt ‘business as usual’ in the heart of the financial district, and they wanted to bring attention to the global climate and ecological crisis which scientists are saying is inevitable.
Specialist police teams eventually freed them after 90 minutes, and morning rush-hour train services were halted for nearly two hours.
This week they appeared at Inner London Crown Court charged with obstructing engines or carriages on the railway. At the start of the trial Judge Silas Reid ruled that the jury should not hear the legal defence of ‘necessity’. The effect of his decision would almost guarantee a guilty verdict.
Despite the ruling, during the trial the defendants did what they could to appeal directly to the jury explaining why each had taken their actions. Their emotional appeals based on both science and compassion clearly had an effect, because yesterday afternoon the spokesperson for the jury announced their verdict as guilty “with regret”. It’s possible that this unusual phrasing was a message to the Judge that, had the necessity defence been heard, they may well have found not guilty.
Lawyers are deciding whether to take the case to appeal. There are many factors to this decision, including whether there might be a stronger case in a future trial, because a successful or failed appeal will set a strong precedent, and there are several more Extinction Rebellion cases heading to Crown Court in the coming months.
Sentencing took place this morning, and the three activists, Mark Ovland, Cathy Eastburn, and Luke Watson, were given conditional discharges by Judge Reid, who said they had acted out of the “noblest of purpose”. They were ordered to pay a total of £1766 court costs.
This was the first Extinction Rebellion case to be heard at Crown Court rather than Magistrates, and while the ruling on necessity was a blow, the sentences were the most lenient imaginable. A conviction can carry up to two years in prison and/or unlimited fine.
Today’s Queen’s speech offered little new from government – they are still working towards a 2050 net-zero carbon target, which most scientists say will not be enough as this is forecast to raise global temperatures by at least 1.5˚, without even factoring in the growing number of positive-feedback loops being discovered. There are also the issues of carbon-offsetting loopholes and reliance on risky carbon-capture technology. There are also some promises on air pollution, backed by thin cash injections to city councils.
It looks as though the only way out of this crisis is for more people to take more dramatic action, and today’s sentence gives some hope that the legal system is not totally blind to the issues.
Our original film of the action below: