Why a jury acquitted Climate Activists: crucial agreed facts

On 14th January at the Inner London Crown Court a jury acquitted three Christian Climate Action activists of obstructing trains or carriages on the railway under the malicious damages act. In 2019 Phil Kingston superglued his hand to a Docklands Light Railway train, while Father Martin Newall and Reverend Sue Parfitt climbed on to the roof offering prayers for the planet, all disrupting morning rush hour traffic.

On the day of their acquittal, in an interview on Radio 4’s PM programme, their lawyer Mike Schwarz explained to Evan Davies: “The case is important because the jury identified with, recognised and approved the actions and motivations of these defendants. They are people of faith who felt impelled to take, what some might see as quite radical action because of their concerns about the destruction of the environment and impact, not only for our country but countries around the world, the poorest and also for future generations. The jury accepted that those motivations were proportionate and lawful.”

When asked about the disruption caused by the action, Mike responded: “The Prosecution presented their case and they presented evidence of disruption; they talked about the number of trains that were delayed, they talked about the individuals who were affected in terms of being late for work and lost wages, and that’s a fact which the jury put in the balance when considering whether these defendants acted proportionately.”

He then went on to explain the motivation of the activists, which was accepted by the jury: “Also borne in mind was the impulsion these defendants had for their children and grandchildren, for people in the poorest parts of the world, which weren’t responsible for climate change. Their response would be to those people, who are affected by the west, by London’s financial sectors fuelling the climate crisis.”

Finally, Mike spoke of the urgent and critical nature of the climate emergency, which compelled the three Christians to act: “The climate crisis is not only serious, but it’s urgent and they are concerned about the failure of those orthodox ways of campaigning to persuade governments to explain to the public what’s going wrong. And those have been unsuccessful, and the position is so critical now, that radical action needs to be taken, not just by activists and campaigners, but by government and business, who frankly are the ones that have the levers of power in their hands; they control policies and finances and the direction of travel. And it’s they who should be taking radical action rather than citizens being forced, impelled to take increasingly radical action.”

At the beginning of this trial, and at a trial in December 21 when another jury acquitted six activists, a document entitled ‘Further Agreed Facts was read out. It is important to note that these facts were agreed by the Prosecution and the Judge, and did not form part of the defence. The document comprises 10 facts about the climate emergency giving a stark warning on the consequences of doing nothing : ‘Such is the seriousness of the climate crisis that over 13,000 scientists have declared ‘clearly and unequivocally’ that the Earth faces a climate emergency.’ As Londoners, both juries may have been particularly struck by the following statement: ‘In October 2021, the chair of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group, Sir David King, warned that London will have to be replaced as the UK capital if climate change is not rapidly addressed, because it will not be possible to defend it from sea level rise and flooding.’

So, in spite of the fact that these 24 individuals are undoubtedly London commuters, and would therefore be personally inconvenienced by such actions, they still made the decision to return a verdict of Not Guilty.

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