Statement of solidarity with James and Mark

On the 17th October 2019, two people, James Mee and Mark Ovland, climbed on top of a DLR train at Canning Town, which was headed for Canary Wharf as a way of protesting the financing of fossil fuels by the financial district. This action took place under the banner of Extinction Rebellion. The two men were in court this week and were found guilty by a jury today.

This is a statement of solidarity with James and Mark. Christian Climate Action is a network of Christians who have different views on what action is needed to prevent climate collapse. However, we want to acknowledge the burden that has been put on us all by those in power who refuse to halt climate breakdown. It is sometimes difficult to discern what the right step forward is as the stakes increase, and this is something that we struggle in together alongside James and Mark.

As Christians we know that it is important to act in line with what we believe to be right and we appreciate that the motivations of James and Mark were positive. The intentions behind their protest was to act to prevent an existential climate crisis from occurring. Extinction Rebellion is a non-violent movement and we are aware that any physical interactions with the public were done as an impulse response, in a state of fear while being pulled off a train. Mark and James have been dealing emotionally with their action since it was carried out and they are regretful and sorrowful that the action led to what it did.

We also think of those members of the public who were impacted by the action at Canning Town – those who were already facing socio-economic difficulties. We are aware that this action took on a different plan at the last minute for a number of reasons and it is regretful that because of this certain aspects of it were not executed as they should have been. The climate movement is about more than temperature control – at its root it is a justice issue. We need a just and green society where life is valued over never-ending growth. We are in this together and it is our love for our fellow children in Christ that pushes us to do what we do. May God help us all.

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And below we post the closing speech in court by Mark Ovland (24-27 Jan 2022)

Members of the jury, I just wish to explain briefly why we find ourselves in this position, giving our own closing speeches. An hour ago His Honour, our judge, withdrew our defence, ruling that there was no possible legal justification for our actions. We therefore had no real choice but to dispense with our barristers, as without a legal defence they have nothing to work with. So we find ourselves now having to give our own closing speeches, which wasn’t a situation we had expected or would have wanted. The one benefit, however, is that I now have the opportunity to speak to you directly, and can speak more freely and openly from the heart, as a human being.

This might sound strange for a closing speech of a defence case, but I am not going to ask you to acquit us. And I won’t be suggesting that you convict us, either. I won’t be encouraging you either way. The reason being that I don’t actually know myself, whether we are criminals for doing what we did.

Our barristers didn’t think so. They were, at this stage, going to argue our defence for us. But His Honour took that defence away just now, saying, effectively, that we were criminals. For myself, I certainly don’t feel like a criminal. I know why I acted and what was in my heart, and I know who I was doing this for, which was for all of you, and everyone else in this room. And for all beings across the world.

So there are people here who believe that we are criminals and there are people here who don’t. But ultimately it is only your opinion that matters. I was very moved on the first day when you came in, seeing these twelve ordinary people enter the court who would come to decide our fate. I think it’s a wonderful system, being tried by our peers. So I’m really not going to encourage you either way at this point, because I don’t know, and it’s not up to me. You have heard our testimonies, and I would only ask that you keep to your oaths, that you deliberate fully, discuss back and forth, consider everything that you’ve heard from us, and come to the decision that you feel in your hearts is right. And I would only want to make it clear to you – and I’m sure His Honour won’t object to me telling you your rights as a jury – that you have an absolute right to acquit us, if that is what you feel in your hearts is the right decision, no matter what anyone else in this room might think. This has been the right of juries for the past 350 years, and as such there can never be sanctions imposed on you for returning a ‘not guilty’ verdict. What is said in your deliberation room is confidential and you don’t have to explain your decision to anyone outside of that room. I honestly don’t know whether these actions make us criminals, but I’m happy to place that decision in your hands, and I will respect your verdict.

His Honour will no doubt make the case sound cut and dried, in his instructions to you. And in this room His Honour is the authority on the law, and I bow to that and have no problem accepting his ruling that there is currently no defence in law for what we did. But speaking just as a layperson, outside of the narrow strictures of law, I can’t help but look at this situation and see it as more of a grey area. Because if I think of all the cases that come through this court, I suspect that there are only a limited number of variants. The people involved will be different, the details will be different, but effectively it’s just the same stuff going round and round, it’s just human beings doing what human beings do. And for that reason there are hundreds of years of case law, that lawyers have an exceptional knowledge of, and can navigate through in order to find how such cases should be treated. They know that doing ‘x’ in situation ‘y’ means a person has committed a criminal act. And there’s maybe just a couple of points that the jury needs to deliberate on to decide whether such is the case.

But this present situation, specifically concerning radical climate action, seems to me to be on a different level. And that is because the situation is unprecedented, it simply hasn’t been seen and dealt with before in courts of law. Lawyers are unable to look at statutes from the 20th century, or the 18th or 14th century, and find a precedent. There’s nothing written there that says, “When the planet and the whole of human civilization is under threat, and no one is doing anything about it, then it is permitted for someone to do x, y, or z in order to raise the alarm” – because that hasn’t ever happened. That is why I believe the case to be less cut and dried, and more of a grey area. When everything we love is under threat and no one is doing anything about it, is it a criminal activity for two guys to get on top of a train and say, “Everyone, please, stop, think, we have a problem, this needs to change”? I don’t know the answer. I don’t believe there is an answer in the law for that. I believe it is solely up to the twelve of you to decide.

And that’s the question that needs to be answered. The question is not, “Was this action pretty, did it go well, was it perfectly planned?” You’ve heard our evidence, you’ve seen the clips. It was a horrible day. Mistakes were made. But that isn’t the question. The question is: Was it criminal doing what we did?

Maybe I should say that when I climbed on top of the train, I did so with my eyes wide open to possible consequences. I wasn’t expecting this to just go away, to be forgotten about. And I wasn’t assuming that a jury would later acquit us. I knew what charge I would be facing. I knew that just by climbing on top of the train for half an hour, in an attempt to raise the alarm and ask for action from our government, I could be handed a two-year prison sentence. But I can tell you that that was the least of my concerns. If I thought that it would make even the slightest bit of difference in helping to push along action on the climate, I would have spent five years in prison, or ten years. Because in the face of this crisis, in the face of the suffering we are already seeing, and all that is to come, taking away a few years of my personal freedom feels completely insignificant, if in some strange way it can help. And I’m still prepared for that eventuality now. If after deliberation you believe that the two of us should be convicted, I have my prison bag here ready. I’ve always known that this was a potential outcome and I would have been naive to assume otherwise.

But whatever decision you reach today, I know within myself that I acted to the best of my convictions. And I know that I can look my nieces and nephew in the eyes when they’re a bit older and they’re asking what I did to try and help, and I can be proud of my actions. Because I might have made some mistakes but at least I did something; at least I tried.

3 thoughts on “Statement of solidarity with James and Mark

  1. Michael Oram says:

    That is honest, and in the end may make a difference greater than in those cases where (despite similar directions by the Judge) found the accused ‘not guilty’.
    Look no further than the Sufferagets.
    It is ordinary people who in the end can make a difference and turn-arround leaders and governments; without them there would be no spark and no fire into action.
    Is it better to try sitting on the top of a train in order to get issues better noticed, or to do nothing and allow the Earth to degenerate to the state the planet Mars is in?
    It only takes ordinary people to do nothing for such as that to happen.
    Thank you for those who do not get everything right but at least try… May your kindling of a mission bear future benefits.

    Liked by 1 person

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