Jury says: Direct Action Justified To Stop The Climate Crisis!

Today is a historic day for the climate change movement. A UK Crown Court jury effectively ruled that taking direct action, breaking the law, and even property damage are all justified in the course of stopping catastrophic climate change.

The trial was regarding 6 Greenpeace activists – who were arrested in the course of painting an anti-coal message on the smokestack of the Kingsnorth Power plant in the UK. They were charged with causing £30,000 (US$53,000)  of damage, and facing serious legal repurcussions for their noble actions. This was one of a series of direct actions taken against the Kingsnorth Power Plant over the past year.

The trial included top climate scientists like NASA’s James Hansen testifying to the urgency of stopping coal, and the damage that is already being caused by runaway emissions.  Witnesses talked about greater damage being done to ice-dependent communities and species in the Arctic and Antarctic, and the impacts rising sea levels will have on island countries like Tuvalu. A top environmental policy adviser for the UK government even said there was “a staggering mismatch between what we’ve heard from government and what we’ve seen from government in terms of policy”.

Today, the jury ruled in the activists’ favor, agreeing with the defense’s argument that justified the action “due to an immediate need to protect property belonging to another.”  The quote from one of the charged activist sums it up well:

“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?”

See the official statement below from Greenpeace International. And let’s take this energy, momentum, and precedent back to our communities!

United Kingdom

In an unprecedented trial a UK Crown Court jury has acquitted six Greenpeace UK volunteers of criminal damage to a coal-fired power plant. The jury, consisting of representatives from the British public, found their actions justified when considering the damage to property caused around the world by CO2 emissions from the plant.

The six volunteers – Kevin, Emily, Tim, Will, Ben and Huw – attempted to shut down the Kingsnorth power station in Kent last year by scaling the chimney and painting the Prime Minister’s name down the side. The defendants had intended to paint ‘GORDON BIN IT’ down the side of the chimney but were served a High Court injunction by police helicopter, meaning they only got as far as painting the Prime Minister’s first name.

Lawful excuse

They were accused of causing £30,000 (US$53,000) of criminal damage to the Kingsnorth smokestack from painting. The defence was that they had a ‘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.

The defence used evidence to prove that burning coal inflicts enormous damage upon ecosystems, people and property across the planet – and that the UK government was failing to take effective action.

This is the first case where preventing property damage from climate change has been used as part of a ‘lawful excuse’ defence in Crown Court.

NASA scientist called for a moratorium

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”.

An expert on climate change impacts in the UK said some of the property in immediate need of protection from sea level rises included parts of Kent (Kingsnorth being “extremely vulnerable”) and that “it behoves us to act with urgency”. And an Inuit leader told of his first hand experiences of the impacts of climate change.

After hearing all of the evidence, the jurors supported the right to take direct action to protect the climate from the burning of coal.

The Tipping Point

Seen in the light of the verdict, the plans to build a new coal plant at Kingsnorth (which could emit as much as the world’s 30 least polluting countries combined every year for 40 or 50 years) show that Gordon Brown’s government is failing to act on climate change. Instead they are pumping out policies that are actively leading us in the wrong (and very dangerous) direction. UK Ministers now find themselves in a very tight corner.

This verdict marks a tipping point for the climate change movement. It stands as an example to governments everywhere and an inspiration to people world-wide that they can and should take a stand against coal fired power stations in defence of the climate!

9 Responses to “Jury says: Direct Action Justified To Stop The Climate Crisis!”

  1. 1 Morgan Sep 10th, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    Bravo. Thanks Greenpeace, and thanks to Kevin, Emily, Tim, Will, Ben and Huw. Now for the US?

  2. 2 Jon Warnow Sep 10th, 2008 at 6:47 pm

    This is huge. It’s starting to feel like it’s time for the US to escalate a couple orders of magnitude. I wonder if the UK legal argument would hold water stateside? Patriot Act experts, anyone?


    Supreme Court Justices say it best:”If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable.” –Louis D. Brandeis

  3. 3 Carl Sep 11th, 2008 at 6:24 am

    I shared the above with a friend here in New Zealand and he remarked:

    Oh Yes.

    This is Civil Society waking up from its trance of subservience to “elected” authority.

    “[The people] are in truth the only legitimate proprietors of the soil and government.” –Thomas Jefferson to Pierre Samuel Dupont de Nemours, 1813. ME 19:197

    “[It is] the people, to whom all authority belongs.” –Thomas Jefferson to Spencer Roane, 1821. ME 15:328

    “The purpose of government is to enable the people of a nation to live in safety and happiness. Government exists for the interests of the governed, not for the governors. As Benjamin Franklin wrote, “In free governments the rulers are the servants and the people their superiors and sovereigns.” The ultimate powers in a society, therefore, rest in the people themselves, and they should exercise those powers, either directly or through representatives, in every way they are competent and that is practicable.” Thomas Jefferson

  4. 4 Ethan Nuss Sep 15th, 2008 at 11:36 pm

    Wonderful! Does anyone know if this defense would work in the US?

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About Matt

Matt lives in San Francisco, where he enjoys working on climate justice and energy issues, supporting direct action as a strategy for social change, rock climbing, biking, punk rock, and the plethora of vegan food options. He has been involved in radical social justice and ecological movements for over 15 years.

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