Four Scientists for XR vindicated by Crown Court following appeal - Extinction Rebellion UK

Four Scientists for XR vindicated by Crown Court following appeal


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Today four Scientists for Extinction Rebellion won their appeal in Southwark Crown Court after being found guilty last August on a charge of criminal damage to the value of £2,000. 

Ben Benatt, an ecologist, Dr. Emily Cox, a social scientist who specialises on public attitudes on climate and energy, Professor Colin Davis, a cognitive psychologist and Pete Knapp, researcher in air quality, were part of a group of nine scientists who pasted scientific papers, used chalk spray and glued themselves to the windows of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience to highlight the danger posed by new oil and gas exploration [1]. 

Judge Rimmer highlighted the significance of the choice of the BEIS building, because “the protest was directly focused on the responsibilities of His Majesty’s government for the climate emergency and in particular its role in issuing new oil and gas licenses”. The court also noted that there was”scant” evidence of criminal damage produced by the prosecution. Judge Rimmer concluded, as he dismissed the case and found all four defendants not guilty, that it is clear “the protestors held heartfelt and real concerns about climate change and these are very important issues”. It establishes that the previous conviction of the four scientists last September was a disproportionate response to their actions. At the time of the protest the scientists took great care not to cause any damage by using easily washable and removable substances.

The outcome of this appeal highlights once again the inconsistencies of the legal system. The five other scientists who took part in the action at BEIS were separately tried in October, and, in accordance with the recent ruling in relation to the Colston Four appeal [2], were found to have no case to answer [3]. However, it took more time and money for the four remaining scientists to be vindicated and prove that, like their colleagues, they were exercising their rights to protest under the Human Rights Act.

While climate protestors are often accused of wasting police time, the government’s response is to pile more for the police to deal with in terms of legislation to curb protests in alarming and repressive ways [4]. While our judicial system is crumbling due to lack of funding [5], our government prioritises prosecuting peaceful climate protestors over those charged with real crimes.

So we have to ask ourselves some serious questions. Who is wasting time and money? Why is the government so determined to shut down people who are raising the alarm? Why is it wasting precious time when it should be addressing the climate and ecological breakdown? Why is the government still funding new oil and gas exploration while ignoring the solutions of mitigation and adaptation that will bring a liveable future?

Professor Davis said, “It is a relief to have the Crown Court recognise that our actions were not criminal, but rather constituted legitimate political protest. The true criminals are the fossil fuel companies that are destroying our climate in their ruthless drive to maximize profits, and the governments, including our own, that aid and abet this vandalism on a global scale. The Secretary General of the United Nations is correct to refer to this as a criminal abdication of leadership.”

Pete Knapp, an air quality PhD candidate, said “The fossil fuel air pollution that covers the windows of BEIS remains unchallenged, but spraying chalk over it in a protest to reduce fossil fuel pollution led to a year of defense in the magistrates and crown courts. Today, the courts have championed protecting life and peaceful protest over prosecuting chalk spray on a window” 

Emily Cox said, “Of course I’m pleased that we were finally acquitted for this charge. However, I’m also frustrated at the shocking waste of everyone’s time. This process has taken up five days of court time prosecuting peaceful protesters exercising their rights. This is time which could otherwise have been spent addressing the serious backlog of cases where people are in custody awaiting trial for much more serious offenses”.

Ben Benatt said, “We went to considerable lengths to get here, but felt we had no option – the UK government’s push ‘full steam ahead’ in licensing murderous exploitation of new fossil fuel reserves whilst criminalising trivial damage caused by peaceful protestors is disgraceful and must be challenged.”


[1] Extinction Rebellion scientists: why we glued ourselves to a government department

[2]Acquittal of four who toppled statue unchanged but appeal court decision could affect future trials for ‘significant’ criminal damage

[3] Acquittal of five Scientists for Extinction Rebellion

[4] ‘Not What You’d Expect in a Democracy.’ How Britain Is Waging War Against Climate Protesters

[5] UK dispatch: leading barristers say that Britain’s courts are crumbling

Related topics

appeal BEIS court criminal damage Scientists for XR trial

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