SIX climate activists go on trial at Southwark Crown Court today (Monday 18 September) for conspiracy to commit criminal damage to HM Treasury building on 3 October 2019, when 1,800 litres of fake blood were sprayed over the premises from a fire engine.

The fake blood was made from water coloured with food dye so it would be easily washed off the building. The Crown Prosecution Service is claiming clean-up costs of £17,000 and the defendants face sentences of up to ten years in prison each if they are found guilty by the jury.

At the action, banners reading STOP FUNDING CLIMATE DEATH were displayed, and the slogan was stencilled onto the walls of the building. The protest was designed to spotlight the role of the Treasury in financing climate breakdown, after parliament’s Environment Audit Committee reported that the Treasury was allowing the UK Export Finance (UKEF) department to underwrite new fossil fuel projects abroad, using billions of pounds of public money. This support has enabled projects worth many more times this amount to get off the ground, locking low-income countries into high-carbon pathways and debt.

Extinction Rebellion say funding such projects means the Treasury is implicated in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and the wrecking of our children’s future.

In May 2021 the Treasury introduced tax relief for new oil and gas developments of 91p in the pound. This tax relief was estimated to amount to £11.4 billion in subsidies over five years. The development of just one of those fields, Rosebank, would breach the UK’s carbon budget from its production emissions alone, and produce more carbon emissions than the 28 lowest-income countries combined when the oil is burned.

New research shows the UK is one of the five top countries responsible for the majority of planned expansion of new oil and gas fields through to 2050. At the same time UK offshore wind capacity ground to a standstill last week, with not a single bid being made to develop new projects in the latest government auction.

As the UN’s Global Stocktake report made clear, to avoid the worst impacts of climate breakdown we need to get on a fast track to a clean, renewable energy economy. Aligning government financial flows is central to this challenge.

The trial

At the pre-trial hearing on 1 September, Judge Justin Mark Cole indicated that he was minded to rule on which defences would be available to the defendants after the prosecution at the earliest, and perhaps not until after the defence case. The prosecution indicated they will argue the judge should rule sooner, ie before the jury comes in.

Recently judges have been using new case law to shut down the defences available to those who undertake nonviolent civil disobedience, leaving defendants unable to present the motivation for their actions to a jury in a clear manner, if at all. Three people have been sent to jail for contempt of court for mentioning the words ‘climate change’ and ‘fuel poverty’.

Cathy Eastburn, a musician from South London said: “I’m proud to have taken part in this powerfully symbolic and memorable action, which shone a spotlight on the Treasury’s financing of fossil fuel projects around the world. I took this action because I want to ensure a liveable future for my children and children everywhere. Four years on, we face trial and possibly prison for this necessary, appropriate and proportionate action. Is this trial really in the public interest? How about prosecuting the real criminals: those who are continuing to invest millions in new fossil fuel projects, knowing full well this ties us all into a future of accelerating climate breakdown and societal collapse?”

Liam Norton, an electrician from South London said: “I took part in the action against the treasury in 2019 because I was resisting a government who were actively destroying a society they were first and foremost there to protect. UKEF, who were also in the building we targeted, invest billions into fossil fuel projects in the global south which is morally indefensible. As citizens what choice do we have when we see our own governments display such blatant criminality? We must resist them with nonviolence.”

Daniel Blackmore, a full time carer from Devon said: “I’m feeling nervous about this court case. It will be the first time I have attended court other than pre-trial hearings. This case has been going on for four years and it has caused me a lot of anxiety. Despite this I’m proud of what I did and I hope that the jury will see why this was not a criminal act but a necessary action to take in the climate and ecological emergency we are currently in.”

* The Environmental Audit Committee’s 2019 report into UK Export Finance investigated the scale and impact of UK Export Finance’s financing of fossil fuels in developing countries. It concluded that most of UKEF’s investment undermines the UK’s climate commitments. Links to a summary, the full report and its conclusions and recommendations are here.

* Sources: Extinction Rebellion and Environmental Audit Committee