Five Extinction Rebellion protestors from Stroud have been cleared of causing criminal damage to Shell’s London headquarters despite the judge directing jurors they had no defence in law.
XR co-founder Simon Bramwell, 49, from Stroud, was acquitted alongside four other Stroud protestors and a sixth co-founding member, Ian Bray, on Friday after a trial at Southwark Crown Court.
The six, who represented themselves, were also cleared of individual counts of having an article with intent to destroy or damage property, while a seventh protester, Katerina Hasapopoulous, 43, from Stroud, earlier pleaded guilty to criminal damage and will be sentenced later.
The six acquitted were Simon Bramwell, Jane Augsburger, 55, Senan Clifford, 60, David Lambert, 62, and James “Sid” Saunders, 41, all from Stroud, and Ian Bray, 53, from Holmfirth, West Yorkshire.
“This is such a significant victory for the consciousness of the British people when it comes to the huge, immediate threat of climate change and the absolute failure of our Government to do anything meaningful about it,” said Mr Bramwell.
Prosecutor Diana Wilson told jurors each of the defendants deliberately sprayed graffiti or smashed windows at the Shell building in Belvedere Road, central London, on April 15, 2019.
The protest, which saw activists pour fake oil, glue themselves to windows and doors, break glass, climb onto a roof and spray graffiti, was part of wider Extinction Rebellion demonstrations across the capital.
Ms Wilson said that while some protesters stood outside the building holding banners or speaking through megaphones, “these defendants went further”, adding: “The seven involved caused significant damage.”
All those who stood trial explained they had targeted the Shell building because the oil giant was directly contributing to climate change, thereby causing serious injury and death, and argued it was a “necessary” and “proportionate” response to the harm being caused.
Clifford quoted Sir David Attenborough and former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in his evidence.
He said: “I believe if I don’t do whatever I can to protect our Earth, to protect life on this Earth, to stop the death and injury that is and will be happening, I’m committing a crime, a really serious crime, and I’m willing to break a window, to paint a message on a wall, I’m willing to break the glass on that emergency button, even if some say that’s a crime.
“Because this is a much bigger crime and I’m trying to stop that crime, I’m trying to protect life in the only way I feel I can.”
Judge Gregory Perrins directed jurors that even if they thought the protesters were “morally justified” it did not provide them with a lawful excuse to commit criminal damage.
With the exception of Saunders, who claimed in his defence that he honestly believed Shell’s employees and shareholders would have consented to his criminal damage, the judge said: “They don’t have any defence in law for the charges they face.”
But the jury of seven women and five men took seven hours and four minutes to acquit them of both charges.
Some of the defendants waved at jurors, several of whom were visibly emotional, as they left court.
Before reaching their verdicts, the jury had asked to see a copy of the oath they took when they were sworn in.
Thanking jurors for their “care and attention”, the judge said: “This has been an unusual case.”
Speaking after the verdicts, Bramwell said Hasapopoulous had only pleaded guilty because of child care issues.