Christian Climate Action member Sue Hampton was in court this week, for an an action she took against Barclays. Sue is a Quaker and below she explains why she took action…
On Thursday and Friday, Nigel, Phil and I faced trial at St Albans Magistrates’ Court for criminal damage at Barclays St Albans in March. We each glued one hand to the glass fifteen minutes before the branch closed to highlight the bank’s criminal record as the biggest fossil fuel financer in Europe. We were convicted but just have to pay one third of the cleaning bill: £75 each. It felt like a vindication even though we weren’t quite acquitted.
My closing mitigation speech:
“On 11th March this year I met with two Extinction Rebellion friends in St Albans in order to enter Barclays Bank and glue one hand to the glass, while others remained outside with banners, placards, a megaphone and flyers. Some of the substantial crowd of onlookers that soon gathered were clearly astonished, with no idea why the three of us “really old people” would do such a thing. But I had several reasons and I think they are good ones.
I’ve explained that I wanted to play my part in an ongoing campaign to highlight the damage inflicted by the world’s 7th biggest fossil fuel financer and the dirtiest bank in the UK. I aimed to apply just a little more pressure on the board of Barclays in order to persuade them to rethink the way they invest.
I hoped to alert those members of the public watching in person or online to the level of the damage Barclays does by funding fossil fuel projects around the world in spite of considerable greenwashing, so that some of those enlightened would change banks and/or become campaigners themselves.
I expected to make the local news and start conversations, not least among Barclays employees who are not responsible for the Board’s policies.
But I also felt a kind of moral compulsion. I needed to raise my hand to the glass in a gesture that meant NO, or Enough. We must stop the harm. Compliance is complicity. Once I realised that business as usual is propelling life on Earth towards extinction via enormous suffering experienced mainly by the world’s poor, keeping my head down as a conventional, law-abiding consumer was no longer an option.
I had already taken part in legal performative protests outside several branches of Barclays, kneeling to be anointed by fake oil and climbing on the roof with a banner. On each occasion one of us had handed in a letter to the branch manager explaining our actions and asking for the letter to be forwarded to Head Office. Legitimate forms of protest are becomingly increasingly few for those like me who cannot face imprisonment due to child care commitments and a support role for a ninety-five year old mum. I chose to glue on, rather than break glass, because it fits better with my exacting Quaker principle of nonviolence and because I was confident that this meant no permanent or serious damage would be caused. I consider the damage to be so trivial and temporary as to be insufficient to warrant prosecution, and expected the case to be dropped.
When Extinction Rebellion cases first exercised the courts after April 2019, magistrates were told that these cases were not about climate change or indeed about morality. But in Crown Court trials juries are now presented with the uncontested facts about climate change as legal proceedings commence. So although I understand that Barclays Bank is not on trial here, I feel certain that before long the directors will be found guilty of ecocide, and of crimes against humanity. Set against Barclays’ record as the world’s 7th biggest financer of fossil fuels and the biggest in the UK, three hands glued to glass represent something rather less than criminality.
The IEA has stated, as of last year, that no new coal mines, coal plants or oil and gas fields can be permitted if we are to achieve ‘net zero by 2050’. Yet in 2021 Barclays funded the most fossil fuels ($5.6 billion) between January and the eve of the COP26 UN climate summit in Glasgow in November. The bank claims that it has ‘integrated [the IEA’s Net Zero by 2050 scenario] to derive our benchmarks and set our 2030 targets.’ Yet Barclays continues to finance companies such as BP, Chevron, Eni, Equinor, ExxonMobil, Repsol, Shell, and Total, all of whom have business plans that involve expanding the fossil fuel industry.
This is more than irresponsible. It is killing people, mostly vulnerable people who have contributed the fewest emissions. It’s up to those in the global north who know, in spite of media silence, that this year emissions will be higher than ever before to tell people so, and tell them why. We’re still sounding the alarm because the house is still in on fire and business is fuelling the blaze. This summer temperatures broke new records. It’s the duty of responsible citizens to take whatever nonviolent action will give the truth a little space, generating a few online images and a few online inches. Climate science suggests that we may already be out of time to change direction, and a 1.5 degree rise is no longer an achievable limit, but love never gives up.
I acted in conscience and with overwhelming, grieving love, not just for my own children and grandchildren but for those most affected already across the world, in Pakistan, in India, the Philippines, Uganda… I am ever mindful that we can only protect those closest to us when we remember our love for those furthest away, those for whom climate chaos is terrifying reality. And it’s a surreal experience being in court and buried in legal paperwork full of case law and focusing on precise meanings of words like ‘reckless’ and ‘proportionate’ when WE ARE IN A CLIMATE AND ECOLOGICAL EMERGENCY NOW.
I’m vegan, I bank ethically, use public transport, have a renewable energy provider, shop zero waste and stopped flying 16 years ago. Please tell me what else a caring human can do to try to stop the harm.”