SIX EXTINCTION REBELLION ACTIVISTS, including a Quaker, were acquitted in a landmark verdict at Southwark Crown Court on Friday 23 April. The jury delivered a not guilty verdict for each defendant, despite Judge Perrins ruling that five of the six had no defence under the law.
The trial was for criminal damage to the Shell HQ building in London’s Waterloo in April 2019, and could have led to a maximum five year prison sentence and/or a £10,000 fine for each defendant. The verdict is being hailed as a major victory for climate campaigners.
The action was designed to increase public knowledge of Shell’s complicity in the climate and ecological emergency. Thirty years ago, Shell researched the effect of carbon emissions on the climate, but instead of moving out of fossil fuels they hired lobbyists. Amnesty International says there is evidence to support the Anglo-Dutch company’s complicity in murder, rape and torture committed by the Nigerian government, and the execution of nine environmental activists, including their leader, Ken Saro-Wiwa.
During the protest – which lasted over 24 hours – activists poured fake oil, glued themselves to the windows and blocked doors. They cracked several windows, climbed onto the entrance canopy, dropped banners and painted the exterior with ‘Shell Knew’, ‘Climate Criminals’ and ‘Lies’.
The six defendants had hoped to rely on the necessity defence – which provides a lawful excuse for a criminal act if intended to prevent a greater harm – and to argue that their actions that day were necessary to raise the alarm about the threat of climate change and pressure the UK government to act. Sitting Judge Perrins allowed the defendants to explain their beliefs to the jury, but ruled the necessity defence inadmissible.
All the defendants chose to represent themselves, allowing them to address the jury directly throughout the nine day trial and to deliver their own closing statements. They addressed the jurors as fellow citizens, spoke about the climate emergency and the sixth mass extinction, and apologised if it was in the court that they first heard the bad news.
Ian Bray, Extinction Rebellion Co-founder, a father of two and a Quaker, said: “Peace is a privilege I don’t have. Looking back over the last 30 years, it’s not that we have sleep-walked into this moment of consequence, it’s that we have wilfully ignored the warnings. I am troubled and uncertain about the actions it seems necessary to take in order to call attention to warnings we have ignored. Yet I recognise that the impact of the trial and the two year wait bear little comparison to the burden Shell activists have suffered in other countries. The killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa cast a long shadow and highlights the cost paid by many others.”
“I am much more afraid of climate change than I am of arrest or going to jail and to use some Quaker terms, I hope I’ve lived adventurously enough to speak a small amount of truth to power and that my body has stopped the wheels turning just long enough for us to be here. It certainly feels to be what love requires of me at this time.”
Extinction Rebellion will be back at Southwark Crown Court on 30 June for a second jury trial for criminal damage at the Shell HQ building, during an action in September 2020.
* More information on Shell in Nigeria from Amnesty International here
* Read the full closing statements of all the activists here.
* Source: Extinction Rebellion