David Lambert, 60, historian from Stroud
David, a father of three, was arrested for criminal damage during an action at the Shell HQ building on the first day of the 2019 April Rebellion and tried in April 2021, at Southwark Crown Court, in XR’s second only jury trial. He was acquitted, along with his five fellow defendants (all self-representing) despite the judge directing the jury that he had no defence in law.
David’s very first arrest was for Criminal Damage on 5th February 2019 at the Stroud District Council offices. He was released without charge. He was also arrested on 10th October at the London City Airport action during the October Rebellion in 2019 and charged with aggravated trespass. He was tried and aquitted along with four others on 28th January 2020 at City of London Magistrates’ Court. The judge blamed the trial’s collapse on the “abject failure” of the CPS, after the arresting officer failed to appear. Former chief government scientist Sir David King was in the gallery and had been prepared to submit a statement as evidence for the defence.
“Why did I get involved with XR and get arrested? I had known about global warming for decades and like most people thought that governments would deal with it more or less. After I heard Jem Bendell and Gail Bradbrook in the autumn of 2018 I suddenly realised, shit, it’s not getting sorted at all. It’s terminal, this really is extinction and collapse and it’s unfolding here and now, not far away and in another hundred years. I entirely got the message that we have a right and a duty to disobey and rebel when our government is failing to protect humanity and the natural world.
That turned my world upside down and for the rest of the year and through 2019, XR took over my life. We graffitied, we glued on in council meetings, we locked on outside Prince Charles’s house, we blocked traffic, we flyposted, we marched to London and joined the London rebellions, we even glued on to Jeremy Corbyn’s fence. And we also met and ate and sang together and shared grief and learnt about wellbeing and compassion in a way I’ve never known before.”
David’s closing statement to the Shell jury, April 2021
“Dear members of the jury, I had not appreciated what a ‘jury of your peers’ really means until you all walked in here.
I felt glad that a verdict on us is entrusted to you. There is nowhere I would rather be, sharing with you what Polly Higgins called ‘the great work of our time’.
Neither the judge nor the prosecution has raised any dispute about the mass of evidence on the climate emergency.
We are not here to insist we know best; we are here to share this question with you:
What should we do?
Our case is that we must do whatever it takes to make government recognise the emergency for what it is – not just a phrase for politicians’ speeches, but a barely imaginable horror, not on some distant horizon, but unfolding in real time in the real and beautiful world all around us.
Members of the jury, on the face of it, this case is open and shut. We did intentionally and deliberately cause that damage. In law this is the simplest of cases; there is now officially no defence, there is nothing for you to discuss.
But I hope you do not find this case open and shut. I hope you agree it is not simple at all. I hope you will be in that jury room arguing, yes, they did the damage, but yes, Shell are the real criminals, yes, the government is allowing business as usual to lead us over a cliff edge, and yes, the future is being stolen from our children and our descendants. I hope you too will be thinking, what can I do now, with this moment I have been given?
His Honour has allowed us to give our evidence about why we acted as we did, he has allowed you to hear that evidence, but he has now told you that, whatever you may have thought about those explanations, there is no legal defence for what we did. But obviously you cannot unhear all the evidence you have heard.
And you have sworn to give a true verdict according to the evidence you have heard. His Honour has not told you that you must find us guilty because, as he has said, he is not permitted to; it is for you to decide. You have the right to find us not guilty, and in these disastrous times, you may feel you have a duty to act according to your conscience.
We hope you will agree that:
- the damage we caused was negligible compared to the damage being caused by Shell
- we acted carefully, with love and grief not anger or malice
- we acted solely to raise the alarm; we had nothing to gain
- the situation is deadly serious.
The climate breakdown, the urgency of the threat it poses, is the evil I acted to avoid. The prosecution has called this subjective, like bananas taste nicer than oranges. The overwhelming scientific agreement on the climate emergency and the chorus of eminently reasonable voices crying out for action, is not subjective but a stark reality.
Last year, we saw what a government can do in an emergency, spending billions to protect the population. The climate emergency is covid to the power of ten, a hundred, a thousand. The warnings are all around us. This plane we are all on is coming down: do we nosedive or do we seek ways to glide and find some way to crash land and save as many lives as possible?
While our government – all governments – avoid serious action, what can we do for our families, our communities, across the world? The experts say, recycling our rubbish or buying a bike or even going vegan is not going to cut it – only action at a government scale will work. But today, there is something you can do. You could make a difference by finding us Not Guilty.
Members of the jury, all of us in this courtroom are facing a terrible threat to life on earth. Please trust to your conscience as we have trusted to ours. We acted to save life. If you find us not guilty you too will be acting with the same simple purpose.”
David’s prepared statement for the London City Aiport trial (not delivered)
“My name is David Lambert. I am sixty years old and I have a daughter and two sons all in their twenties. I am a director of a small consultancy specialising in the conservation of historic landscapes. I have a degree from Exeter College Oxford, I have been a research fellow at York and De Montfort Universities, an adviser to three parliamentary select committees, a member of advisory committees for the National Trust, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Royal Palaces, Historic England and so on.
My work has been in the study and conservation of landscapes but I have not been especially active in environmental campaigning. I have been a member of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, I have written letters, and signed petitions, and I was part of a Save our Trees campaign in Bristol in the 1980s. The idea of ‘global warming’ was something I had lived with all my life but never given much thought to, assuming that the Government would do whatever was necessary to protect us. Until recently, I was largely unaware of the reality of climate breakdown.
When in September 2018 I read Professor Jem Bendell’s Deep Adaptation paper and soon after heard Dr Gail Bradbrook of XR speaking, I was deeply shocked by the situation they both described. I spent several weeks investigating the science myself and concluded that in broad terms that message was correct: we are facing an unparalleled global emergency, which threatens humanity’s future existence within a terrifyingly short timescale, and governments around the world are failing to act to protect us and the rest of life on earth.
In these circumstances, my life was turned upside down. I reduced my work so that I could spend time supporting XR; I felt nothing I was doing for a living had much meaning in the face of this catastrophe bearing down on us all. I subscribed to the idea that only mass non-violent direct action and civil disobedience could reflect the urgency of the situation and raise political and public awareness in a way that forty years of scientific evidence and conventional protests had failed. I believe that my response to the climate crisis, including my attendance at the action at City Airport, while uncomfortable for me and a cause of inconvenience for others, was entirely reasonable. Faced with the evidence of the risks of near-term climate, ecological and societal collapse, it seems to me on the contrary unreasonable not to act.
What I did on 10 October
I attended a briefing in Marsham Street about a proposed action at City Airport on, I think, the 8th October, at which the broad aims of the action were discussed. I decided then not to commit to the action as I felt uncomfortable about the lack of planning. However, I did sign up to a social media group to keep informed and when on the morning of the 10th I heard of a rendezvous at 7.30 at Trafalgar Square I decided to attend. On 9 October an XR press release had announced its aim of closing the airport for three days. I was concerned that the Rebellion was not succeeding in creating a media impact and felt that an action to draw attention to the harm being caused by flying and in particular by flights from City Airport was welcome. Unlike Heathrow, City serves not holidaymakers but business people making frequent short-haul flights around the UK and Europe. I took a quantity of XR leaflets with me so that I could explain the action and its reasons to members of the public.
When I joined the group at Trafalgar Square and found only a handful of people, I realised that the aim of closing the airport was unlikely to succeed. Two coaches were waiting on the Embankment but in the event only one was required and our number was about a dozen people. When we arrived at the Airport the coach was met by a large police presence and turned away. As we drove away we saw a DLR station and decided to try to get to the Airport that way. We arrived on the concourse and saw a number of XR protesters, police, and members of the public/press ahead of us. When I joined the group, there was no evidence of a strategic plan: it was clear that instead the opportunity was being taken to make a protest. It quickly became apparent that police /DLR staff were leading travellers around the protest and into the airport by a different route. After a short while I chose to sit rather than stand, and when some glue was passed around I decided to glue on. I had not come with that intention: I had leaflets but no glue with me.
In joining the action at City Airport/DLR my intention was therefore not to close the airport but to support an action which would raise public awareness of the threat to life caused by flying and gain media attention for XR’s message.
The atmosphere was friendly, and when members of the public started to pass by us, what I heard from protesters was polite and apologetic. This is very much my experience of XR actions: ‘We’re sorry for the inconvenience but this is an emergency’.
I did not hear Ms Gill’s announcement that we had to leave; we were singing which made it difficult to hear. I am sorry that Ms Gill felt ‘personally impacted’ by the action. In ignoring her warnings, no disrespect or rudeness was intended.
I do not recognise Supt Casey’s description of the protest creating ‘a hostile environment’. There were one or two shout-outs of ‘Extinction: Rebellion’ early on but overwhelmingly the protesters engaged in singing rather than anything that could be construed as intimidatory or hostile. At one point protesters were singing, ‘Police we Love You: We’re Doing This for Your Children.’
I dispute Supt Casey’s description of the final 22 protesters – of which I was one – ‘screaming to drown out what he was saying.’ This is an exaggeration which is not supported by the video evidence.
Although I can see evidence that PC Szelk approached protesters and made a statement that they were to be arrested, I do not recall hearing her address me.
Why I did it –evidence
My explanation of why I acted and the evidence on which my decision was based addresses first, the evidence which made me feel I have to support XR, and second the evidence which made me decide to join in this action at City Airport. I would like briefly to summarise the first because it is part of my case that my response to such evidence was reasonable.
The case for global action on an unparalleled scale in response to the climate emergency comes from eminently reasonable sources:
· In 2018 the IPCC said ‘limiting global warming to 1.5ºC [will] require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities’
· The UN Secretary General, Antonio Gutteres said in 2018, ‘ If we do not reverse the current trend of emissions by 2020, it may be impossible to meet the 1.5 degree goal’
· The WHO predicts that climate change will lead to about 250,000 additional deaths each year between 2030 and 2050, from factors such as malnutrition, heat stress and malaria. This is now thought to be a conservative estimate according to the New England Journal of Medicine.
· The WHO says, air pollution is already causing an estimated 570,000 deaths each year in children under 5 years. Worldwide, 11–14% of children aged 5 years and older currently report asthma symptoms and nearly half of these (44%) are attributable to rising levels of temperature and CO2.
· The World Bank has looked at the effect of longer and more frequent droughts and estimates that by 2050, there could be one billion climate refugees from sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America.
· The World Bank also predicts that without climate-resilient development (i.e., development that promotes the capacity of societies to absorb climate shocks and evolve effective new coping strategies in response to change), climate change could force more than 100 million people into extreme poverty by 2030.
· Lloyds of London has modelled how weather-related disruption to food supplies could lead to wheat, maize, soybean and rice prices quadrupling, significant losses on European and US stock markets, food riots and wider political instability.
· Mark Carney governor of the Bank of England gave a speech to Lloyds of London in 2015 in which he said that investors and insurers were underestimating the “huge” threat climate change posed to global financial stability. He described a “tragedy of the horizon” where such dangers aren’t within the normal field of view of businesses, politicians and technocrats.
· Mary Robinson, UN Special Envoy on El Nino and Climate, has said of XR’s blocking of roads and attempts to disrupt flights (11 October ) ‘the truth is we need disruption …[Change] will not happen in a business as usual, easy way; it will only happen if there is enough disruption of business as usual.
· Sir David Attenborough’s BBC film Climate Change: the Facts (April 2019) warned us that “the scientific evidence is that if we have not taken dramatic action within the next decade, we could face irreversible damage to the natural world and the collapse of our societies.”
· Prince Charles told a reception of Commonwealth Foreign Ministers, in July 2019 “…we are facing unparalleled challenges caused by rapid climate change. … the next 18 months will decide our ability to keep climate change to survivable levels and to restore nature to the equilibrium we need for our survival.”
· And just before the October action, the Pope said, ‘We have caused a climate emergency that gravely threatens nature and life itself… now [is] the time for people to reflect on their lifestyles,’ and not to make “thoughtless and harmful” decisions” on food, consumption and transportation.
These are serious voices which it is reasonable to listen to: what is not reasonable is the casual dismissal of their warnings by deniers such as the US President, or the vague hope that things will somehow be okay if we just carry on as usual, which characterises most public and political debate in this country.
In 2018, the IPCC warned that in order to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and so limit global warming to 1.5o, and avoid runaway climate change, we need a 45% reduction in global emissions by 2030. I honestly believe that that reduction is incompatible with the kind of flying habits associated with City Airport and with an expansion of the facility ).
Globally, aviation is a major contributor to carbon emissions and the UK has the third largest aviation section in the world behind only the US and China. In the five years to 2018, despite more fuel-efficient planes, CO2 emissions from airlines increased by 32%.
Flying is a prime example of the kind of consumption in the west which has to be ‘transformed’ (ie reduced) if we are to have any chance of meeting the IPCC target for 2030. Instead, projections show that the world is set to double the number of aircraft by 2038. Aviation will be the UK’s top contributor to global carbon emissions by 2050, by which date, the share of UK emissions taken up by aviation is predicted to grow from around 6% today to 25%.
Targeting City Airport seemed worthwhile to me given that its current expansion plans were and remain a significant and newsworthy issue in the capital. The draft Masterplan consultation was underway at the time of our action (closed 19th October). I believe those plans, which would lift the current cap of 111,000 flights each year to 137,000 by 2030 and to 151,000 by 2035, pose a significant threat to local public health as well as to Government carbon reduction targets.
At the time of our action, a record number of London boroughs, as well as the London Mayor, had objected to the expansion proposals, on the grounds that the resulting noise and air pollution will impact harmfully on the health of London residents.
In 2018, the WHO produced a major report calling for governments to tackle the damaging impact of airport and aircraft noise on public health. LCA impacts more people than any UK airport bar Heathrow and Manchester. According to London City’s noise action plan 74,000 people live within its noise zone, where the EU defines levels as having an impact on mental health. The lifting of the ban on weekend flights and the extension of flights into the evening and early morning will increase the harmful effects of the Airport on public health.
City Airport’s planned expansion will also increase emission of greenhouse gases because there is no practical alternative to the use of kerosene as aviation fuel – ‘no airline has any plan for any significant replacement of kerosene for battery-powered aircraft’ (). The Masterplan simply states ‘It is not possible at this time to calculate total emissions which might arise from the draft Master Plan.’ I was astonished to discover that emissions from the aircraft themselves are not counted in the Airport’s recently vaunted ‘carbon-neutral’ status.
According to CAA data, LCA users have the highest mean annual income of any UK airport: business passengers, £94,000; leisure passengers £92,000. City Airport is used predominantly by the wealthy, frequent fliers, business people, for short-haul flights in smaller jets all of which have disproportionately large carbon footprints. 70% of all flights in the UK are taken by just 15% of the population; most people do not fly at all.
‘London City overflies some of the poorest and most ethnically diverse communities in the UK’. LCA is the world in miniature: a tiny polluter elite and a large number of victims enjoying none of the over-consumption whose side-effects are harming them. Preventing LCA expansion is a matter of climate justice – its noise and air pollution do not affect those who use the planes: those who are affected do not use the planes.
At the protest, travellers were being asked to think about what their flights meant for the future of the planet and their children. The notion of Flygskam, or flight shame, is starting to gain traction as people first become aware of the damage their flying causes, then choose to fly less or not at all. I believe that XR is playing an important part in raising public awareness of these issues: in a survey undertaken as part of the COP 25 Climate talks in Madrid, XR was identified as the single most effective body in terms of education and public awareness about the climate crisis (pp.33-35).
My legal arguments are summarised in the skeleton argument prepared by HJA, who have also supported me in preparing my case. In my previous statement I provided the evidence for why I carried out the action at City Airport.
I am pleading not guilty to the charge of aggravated trespass. I was aware that the DLR concourse was a privately owned public space, but by the time I sat down and glued on, I did not have the intention to obstruct, disrupt or intimidate people going about their lawful business. Although initially the concourse was blocked by our action, I could see travellers being led round the protest so free passage was not being disrupted, and quite quickly the police cleared a way through for the public to allow them to walk directly past the protest. My intention was to make a protest which I hoped would gain some media attention for the climate crisis and the harm caused by the Airport.
I certainly was not intimidating anyone of a normal constitution. I was sitting on the floor on one side of the concourse, singing. I do not believe any members of the public, DLR staff or police were intimidated by my actions.
- The defendant must reasonably have believed that there was an actual and specific threat that required immediate action
- The defendant must have had no realistic alternative to completing the criminal act (tried other things)
- The harm caused by the criminal act must not be greater than the harm avoided
- The defendant did not himself contribute to or cause the threat]
I am well aware that in relation to XR cases magistrates have been rejecting the defence of necessity and I have read the prosecution’s rebuttal of the defence case. However, whether or not that defence is admitted in this court today, I would like to say:-
· I have an honest and genuinely held belief in the imminent threat of death and serious injury caused by human-induced climate change, including our increasing demand for flying
· That belief is reasonable given the increasingly urgent messages provided by the UN, the IPCC, the scientific community and other reasonable sources
· My actions at City Airport were reasonable and proportionate; indeed they could be viewed as disproportionate only insofar as they were dwarfed by the magnitude of the threat of death and serious injury.
· That danger is real and imminent: people are already dying as a result of climate breakdown.
· It was reasonable to believe that the action at the City Airport directly addressed that danger because:
· It was part of a London-centred Rebellion, which in turn was part of an international Rebellion, strategically designed to draw attention to the need for immediate action on the climate emergency
· It stood a reasonable chance of generating media attention for the need for governments to act now to prevent further climate breakdown, which is already killing thousands worldwide.
There is a clear link or nexus between the action I took and the threat I believe to be imminent, viz:
· The evidence I have referred to of the harm to public health caused by the air and noise pollution of LCA
· The widespread public health and climate objections to the Airport’s expansion plans referred to
· The demographic served by the Airport, that is, the polluter elite
· The particular contribution to CO2 emissions and hence to the climate crisis caused by air travel, particularly of the kind in which LCA specialises
A response to the CPS Prosecution Response
I object to the CPS characterisation of the action: viz, ‘even if the Defendants genuinely believed that climate change posed any actual threat of death or serious injury … no reasonable person, sharing similar characteristics, would have responded as the Defendants did. (paras 17-19). I am an entirely reasonable person, put in this position by the unreasonable inaction of my government.
I am baffled by the CPS distinction between a threat to ‘the world rather than to the defendants or any other particular person(s)’: what, if not of particular people, is the world composed?
I object to the CPS suggestion that I am ‘a person who [has] come to the view that their own opinions should prevail over those of others.’ (para 19) In every action I have been involved in with XR I have always explained that (‘Don’t take my word for it’) I wish to encourage other people to ascertain the facts for themselves.
I am concerned to read the CPS suggestion that the obiter from Edmund Davies LJ in Southwark London Borough Council v Williams  could apply in a criminal case: ‘the law regards with the deepest suspicion any remedies of self-help’. With great respect to the particular situation of the squatters in that case, the ‘very special circumstances’ in which those remedies might be resorted to, are, I believe, now applicable, as described by those serious and reasonable voices I have already described. And if there is a threat of ‘anarchy’, it surely comes from government inaction in the face of the threats posed by the climate crisis, not from those of us peacefully trying to raise awareness of that threat.
I must take issue with the logic behind the CPS description of our actions as ‘obstinately quixotic in the light of the perceived danger.’ There is nothing quixotic about responding to serious and reasonable warnings of imminent danger and the need for immediate action.
Nor do I believe that finding us not guilty would be ‘a ratification of criminal conduct intended to cause widespread disruption wherever there is a supposed general threat of death or serious injury.’ That threat is plainly not ‘supposed’ but real, and, as I said, I believe the distinction between a general or particular threat is unreasonable and profoundly unjust.
I am not an eco-warrior; I do not consider myself as an activist or even particularly an environmentalist. I love nature; I love my friends and family; I read Wordsworth; I watch birds; I climb mountains. I am used to research and to piecing together evidence to arrive at a reasonable conclusion on the balance of probabilities.
The balance of probabilities, the precautionary principle, leads me to the conclusion that I should participate in mass non-violent direct action as the only avenue left to make government listen to the warnings, to tell the truth and to act in response to the risks identified.
The decision to carry out an action at London City Airport seemed entirely justified to me. I carried out the action in defence of life. I realise I may be found guilty of a crime of aggravated trespass, but only because the law has not caught up with the crisis that is engulfing the planet.”
Main photo credit: Helena Smith