Burning Pink (or Beyond Politics as they were first known) were a political party and direct action campaign launched in June 2020 with a stunt at a large Sainsburys supermarket in Camden. There, they appeared to walk out without paying, and redistributed free food to passers-by as well as to people from a nearby homeless shelter.
Over the next couple of months a series of escalating actions were designed to attract media attention, especially when in August activists daubed the offices of the four major political parties with pink paint and symbolically cracked the glass of some windows.
As a political party, they stood Valerie Brown as a candidate in the London mayoral election, and she canvassed relentlessly on London’s streets, with a single simple policy of promising to hand power over to Citizen’s Assemblies to reach decisions through debate and consensus.
The campaign was heavily disrupted after Ashley Routh, a long-standing member of the Green Party (who stood for a place on the executive), had infiltrated their Zoom meetings. The jury were shown recordings of a meeting, in which Routh enthusiastically agreed to take part in an upcoming action, even though the number of other willing and available activists was in question. After the meeting, Routh handed over secretly-made recordings to the police, which led to raids and arrests.
Some supporters of the campaign continued occasional actions in their name, and the political canvassing continued for many months up to the mayoral election the following May. Valerie Brown was unable to attend the official mayoral election announcements at City Hall on May 7th because she was arrrested by police following an action at the Guardian newspaper that morning (although she had not taken part). The Green Party candidate was of course there.
Two and a half years later, twelve alleged members of the group, including Roger Hallam, are on trial at Wood Green Crown Court on charges of Conspiracy to Commit Criminal Damage Without Lawful Excuse, and on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning this week, Hallam (who is representing himself) gave evidence to the jury.
Up until a year or so ago, it would have been very common in ‘protest’ cases, for several defences to be raised in a trial of this sort. These would include Protection of Property including ‘Necessity, Duress of Circumstances or Defence of Another’, Belief in Consent, and also Lawful Excuse under Articles 10 and 11 of European Convention on Human Rights.
But various rulings (Colston 4, Ziegler and others), have chipped away at these defences and it is commonplace now in Crown Court trials that prior to a jury hearing evidence, legal arguments take place after which a judge will place limits on what a jury will hear. The legal premise for this is that there is no point a defendant telling a jury they did something because they believed it was a proportionate response (eg. to the climate emergency), if the judge then has to rule that the evidence was inadmissible in law and the jury must not consider it.
While barristers are completely constrained by any such pre-trial ruling, litigants-in-person (self-representing), may not always understand and/or agree with such limitations. Just last week Stephanie Aylett, an Insulate Britain supporter, defied Judge Silas Reid at Inner London Crown Court by continually attempting to speak to the jury about the climate emergency after he had ruled out ANY defence that mentioned climate, home insulation or fuel poverty. She now faces prison for contempt of court. Aylett is quoted as saying “It is incredibly difficult to explain the actions we took without explaining to why we did such a bizarre thing”.
At this stage of the trial, Real Media cannot reveal any legal arguments that were not made in open court (with the jury in attendance), but we can report on evidence heard.
On Monday afternoon, Hallam began his speech to the jury by reminding them he had just taken an oath to tell the truth, and that alongside a Methodist religious upbringing it meant he would tell the WHOLE truth regardless of the consequences. He began to remind them that as a jury they also were under oath, and that they should focus on the evidence and apply justice consistently and proportionately, reminding them that THEY have the final decision.
In the first of several interruptions, the prosecution barrister Diane Wilson objected. When the jury were allowed back in, Hallam continued by reminding them that not only do they have a final decision, but that there is a high burden of proof of guilt, and that they must listen carefully to ALL the evidence.
Apart from some issues over the role of photographers, there were, he said, no real issues over what the prosecution had introduced as evidence – the videos, social media, messages, phone calls, witnesses etc. – they had done a thorough job. What he asked for was for the jury to be as thorough in looking at the defence evidence.
Turning to the charge, he asked whether all damage was necessarily ‘criminal’, at which point he was interrupted by Judge Holmes telling him it was the judge’s role to interpret what the law means by ‘criminal’. Moving on to ‘lawful excuse’ he told the jury that he’d been told the ONLY excuse available was ‘belief in consent’.
Looking at the action against several NGOs, he said paint was put on the wall, but he asked whether this could be described as ‘vandalism’ or an ‘attack’ given that they only put SOME paint there, had planned a certain amount, and had stopped and then gave themselves in to police.
The prosecutor interrupted again, but the judge allowed Hallam to proceed.
Picking up, he spoke about three letters, one prior to action, one after, and one which was stuck to the buildings using the paint that had been thrown. He suggested the purpose of the action was not to commit damage in itself, but to open a dialogue – an act of communication, not vandalism.
As he began to tell a story relating to ‘consent’, the prosecution interrupted again, and more legal discussions took place as the jury were told to go to lunch.
When the court resumed, the Judge gave the jury a short explanation of the lawful excuse of ‘belief in consent’ before Hallam was allowed to continue.
He told the court about his upbringing, the morality instilled in him by a Methodist mother who raised money for Christian Aid, and his time as a young man working with the church and civil rights groups in India – his first visceral brush with evil – the shooting of 20 workers in Raipul, and rapes of their families.
On a scholarship at LSE he began studying economics but then moved to civil rights and studied the work of Martin Luther King and Ghandi.
With a partner, while working on community projects in Birmingham, he bought a farm in Wales and then built up a successful organic business there employing around 30 people.
But then in 2006, the reality of climate change hit his (and many other Welsh farmers), with 7 weeks of summer rain – a once in a millennium weather event – followed by another 7 weeks the following year, and then the coldest winter which destroyed almost his entire leek crop. Farms all over Wales were closing down, he had to lay off his employees and lost hundreds of thousands of pounds. He was also reading about the suicide epidemic engulfing farming communities around the world.
With a pared-back business he went back to education, first an MA in Swindon, and then researching for a PhD at Kings College London in ‘how to make campaigns effective’ (focusing on the use of civil disobedience). Always ruthlessly empirical, most of his research was in the field, working with actual campaigns. Working with casualised couriers, he won 30% pay rises through arguably illegal and definitely disruptive occupations. He also got King’s College London itself to divest its funds from fossil fuels, after an escalating campaign which involved damaging an entrance hall. Again, he characterised the process as one of communication, and despite an initial claim of £7000 of damage, he ended up shaking hands with the Vice Chancellor over the undertaking to divest. Hallam described how this could be interpreted as once they understood what the campaign and damage was about, they had effectively consented to it.
[In fact, as reported previously by Real Media, the college later dropped all charges against Hallam, but the Crown Prosecution Service proceeded against him ‘in the public interest’ and he was acquitted by a jury at Southwark in 2019.]
Moving on, he spoke of occupations at one of the NGOs, Greenpeace, which again led to dialogue, and eventually their setting up of a working group on the climate emergency.
Referring back to Ghandi, he suggested the design of disobedience is to set up some sort of disruptive action element, but that this wasn’t an end in itself, but aimed to lead to dialogue.
As one of the key strategists in the birth of Extinction Rebellion, he showed how several days of actions in London in April 2019 (which caused extensive disruption) had led to a meeting with government officials and then the first Declaration of Climate and Ecological Emergency. Polling later showed that 67% of the British public accepted there was indeed an emergency.
Bringing his evidence back to the civil society organisations that had received visits from the group, he reminded the jury that their role should be to stand up for their members against governments engaging in immoral, illegal or unjust activities. But too often they instead dampen down debate, underplay how dire things are, and engage in ‘displacement activities’ that they know will be ineffectual. In extreme cases they even lie, simply because they have a business model – give us £3 a month – which locks them into an approach. It’s difficult to promote engaging in civil resistance if this might lead to lower revenue streams.
He quoted Martin Luther King’s suggestion that the Negro’s greatest stumbling block is not white supremacists but white moderates. Letter from a Birmingham jail.
Emphasising a spirit of love and dialogue, MLK entered into non-violent direct action (NVDA), and this was the model for Burning Pink’s actions against these organisations with their systemic problems.
Hallam was interrupted again by prosecution when he began to compare the Metropolitan Police’s current issues, but he agreed to move on.
Returning to NGOs he spoke of prior meetings with Greenpeace which got nowhere, and an admission from a Chief Strategists that their strategy was ‘managed defeat’, which he described as mitigating and facilitating the climate emergency. He said Friends of the Earth had lied about achieving a 1.5 degree limit to climate heating, that he’d made a speech at Amnesty International about billions dying, but they hadn’t followed up, and that he’d worked alongside Christian Aid as a youth and they were supposed to be Christians providing Aid, so why weren’t they speaking up?
Re the Green Party, up until 2019 their leaflets apparently didn’t even mention the climate crisis, and they have a policy not to scare people as it will lose them votes. During his time at Extinction Rebellion they made contact with various unions, but again they wouldn’t back civil disobedience, sometimes because decarbonisation may threaten the livelihoods of their members.
Political parties are meant to promote the interests of the people but again they dampen down the truth and so threaten the destruction of our children’s future.
Returning to MLK and Ghandi, Hallam spoke about how after conventional methods fail against entrenched power, NVDA is a key to open dialogue. The British were simply not going to leave India after polite conversation, and Black people in the American South had been calling for freedom for 90 years before MLK.
Another interruption from prosecution and the jury was sent for a break.
When they returned Hallam moved back to the planning for the actions against NGOs and political parties. Referring to Erica Chenoweth’s social science research, he said that 54% of NVDA is successful, and that several NGOs had admitted that XR’s actions had done more to raise awareness than anything in 20 years. So for the Burning Pink actions there was months of structural planning, and the aim was to engage people emotionally through forthright action – the letter itself says “under normal circumstances we wouldn’t dream of doing this”. He mentioned the Act Up campaign on AIDS awareness in America, which was vitriolic at times, but led to a handshake with the Chief Medical Officer and later a friendship. It suggested that had the Chief Medical Officer known that the campaign would have led to such a transformation and to so many lives saved, then he would have consented at the time.
Hallam told the jury that the damage was not the point of the plan, but the dialogue and ensuing changes. This included newspaper articles after the action, and even the jury themselves listening now.
The prosecution interrupted again saying he had drifted a long way from ‘belief in consent’.
Next, Hallam started to speak about his knowledge of the extent of the climate emergency, speaking with many illustrious scientists, and studying hard, in order to make a moral decision of what is justified to deal with it.
Another interruption pointing out that Hallam is not a climate scientist. He argues that what he has learnt about it is what led him to believe that the organisations would have given consent if they’d known too. So he began to speak about carbon emissions, and yet again the prosecutor objected.
As the jury were asked once again to leave the court, one of them audibly huffed and tutted.
After a few minutes of legal discussion they returned and Hallam contextualised what he was about to tell them – that he believed the organisations would have consented had they known the circumstances, and that the circumstances are what he now wanted to explain to the jury.
The rate of carbon emissions is still increasing exponentially, half of all CO2 has been put into the atmosphere since 2000 at a rate between 8 and 30 times faster than at any other time in the last 90 million years. It was clear by 2020 that the Paris Agreement would not be met. This was designed to save small island states from destruction.
Kevin Anderson, a former government advisor has stated that we’re heading beyond 1.5˚ towards 2˚ and that this will mean one billion refugees. At 1˚ just 1% of the planet is uninhabitable, but at 2˚ this rises to 20%. As a social scientist at Kings College he asked the War Department what a billion refugees would mean – they said it would cause ‘societal collapse’.
In Syria, the worst drought in 1000 years led to a million people moving to cities. Half a million died and another half were refugees. If a billion people were on the move, it’s reasonable to suggest 100 million will die, and we must also acknowledge the real suffering of others. In these scenarios the poor and the weaker suffer most. Look at the Congo – 2 million women were raped.
Judge Holmes interrupted at this moment to say that the speech had moved a long way away from evidence.
Hallam replied that if these civil society organisations were fully aware of what’s locked in to our future then any reasonable person would consent to an action that highlights what this means. We’re not just moving towards 2˚, but to 4˚ round about 2050 -2075 – that would mean HALF the world’s population on the move. These are estimates – it could be a lot worse (or better, if that’s the word). It’s all in gold standard peer-reviewed scientific papers.
Judge Holmes asked whether Hallam had read these papers BEFORE the actions, and he replied yes.
He continued. Carbon in the atmosphere is like a debt – it doesn’t actually heat it for around ten years and that debt currently is around 0.75 to 1˚, so if we stop all emissions NOW, the temperature will still increase that much. Then there is a ‘dimming effect’ caused by the pollution in the air actually stopping some of the sun’s heat. That locks in another 0.7˚ we have to add when we stop. The NGOs are aware that around 75% of Arctic ice melted in in 2020 summer. In the next ten years, we’ll see total melt, and the dark water soaks up heat worth another 0.4˚.
So the “FULL CIRCUMSTANCES” is there is substantial and fairly conclusive evidence we’re heading to 4˚ heating in total. In fact in the 1970’s Exxon scientists estimated 3-4˚ warming this century. So we return to the fact that half the world will be uninhabitable.
Hallam then gave a string of quotes from eminent scientists and think tanks – visions of a turbulent and conflict ridden world, a planet able to carry just one billion people (not 8 as at present), four to eight billion deaths this century, and so on.
Hallam said “if these NGO heads were aware of all this, they would surely have consented to a bit of paint on their premises to wake them up.”
Hallam then reminded the jury that the ‘deaths’ he talked about were actually murders, because we’ve known for 50 years what will happen and if a group continues for economic reasons to continue to engage in these activities there can be no moral argument. It’s criminal, it’s mass murder. And with a possibility of actual extinction of the human race, that is surely an absoluteness of criminality.
Going back to the science, and the feasibility of extinction, Hallam then spoke about tipping points that may lead the planet to 8˚ and beyond, known as ‘hothouse earth’. These include the Arctic melt, the downward spiral of the Amazon rainforest (which at current rates suggest it will fail in the next 10-15 years), and the rise of methane emissions. Methane is a gas that heats the atmosphere 86 times more powerfully than CO2, and acts much quicker. It too is rising exponentially both as a side-product of fossil fuels but also as temperatures rise, by the melting of the permafrost.
Returning to the framing of all this by civil society organisations, Hallam accuses them of effectively covering up the truth, diminishing its urgency, and still clinging onto the myth of the Paris Agreement and a 1.5˚ limit. This, he said, was done and dusted in 2015.
Nearing the end of his evidence, he quoted Tony Blair from 2016 that “the science of climate change has never been more obvious…we’re heading towards 3-4˚…and we have a window of only 10 to 15 years to avoid passing catastrophic tipping points”.
Posing the question to civil society organisations why they didn’t attend to what Blair said in 2006, he thought they might say they’d failed and that they DID consent to action to wake them up.
He ended with a little story, not about all the facts of climate, the mercilessness of nature and the bottom line as a farmer, but about the emotional response. He was driving back to Wales in 2016, and on the radio had heard a famous scientist saying the climate temperature had risen by .2˚ in just one year. Hearing the fear in that voice triggered something, and he had stop the car and cried.
To the jury he said “Ask yourself why I couldn’t stop crying.”
The following morning, Hallam was under cross-examination from the prosecution barrister. Inevitably, this focused on his role in the planning of the actions. A short section of a video was played to the jury – a filmed conversation between Valerie Brown and Roger Hallam shortly after the NGO actions and once they’d been released after handing themselves in at Brixton Police Station.
Prosecutor Wilson asked several questions relating to whether Hallam had believed in the owners’ consent BEFORE action. He responded that consent is a legal term and that they were more concerned with NECESSITY, but that that had been ruled out as a permissible defence in this court. To a suggestion that he had manufactured the idea of consent AFTER the actions he responded that they weren’t lawyers, they were trying to persuade the organisations that we’re facing a genocidal future, and they had no plans for a sophisticated defence to the court. Mentioning ‘necessity’ again, the judge reminded him he was not allowed to tell the jury about the law.
Repeated questions about ‘no comment’ interviews seemed designed to paint Hallam as devious in the police station, but it is a cultural custom among protesters to conduct ‘no comment’ interviews and they are always advised by lawyers to do so. There were other questions about the role of photographers (as some have been accused of conspiracy).
At the end, Judge Holmes told Hallam he had one last opportunity to clarify anything that had been raised, and his response was simply that “there was no acknowledgement in the prosecution’s questioning, of the enormity of the problem we face”.
Several more defendants are due to take the stand over the coming days.
Article was edited on Thursday 2nd at 9am with minor corrections.