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Climate activists found guilty over London train protest by 'regretful' jury

by Laurie Goering | @lauriegoering | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 18 December 2019 19:28 GMT

Climate protesters with the Extinction Rebellion group climb on top of a train at London's Canary Wharf station, April 17, 2019. HANDOUT/Extinction Rebellion

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Jurors deliver their verdict "with regret" after being ordered by judge to focus on protesters' actions not their motivation

By Laurie Goering

LONDON, Dec 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Three Extinction Rebellion activists who glued themselves to a London train were found guilty on Wednesday of criminal obstruction after a judge dismissed their defence that the protest was "necessary" to drive action on climate change.

Cathy Eastburn, one of the arrested protesters, said climbing onto the roof of the train in April was a desperate attempt to "sound the alarm" about climate threats, including those to her two daughters and other children.

Extinction Rebellion launched in London in 2018 using non-violent civil disobedience to highlight the risks posed by climate change, inspiring a wave of action globally with protests leading to thousands of arrests.

"Like a person in a burning building would sound the alarm and bash on doors and maybe even break something to get people to leave the building and save them - it felt very much like that to me," Eastburn told the Inner London Crown Court jury.

But Judge Silas Reid - who on Monday ruled the activists could not use the "law of necessity" as a defence - ordered jurors to focus on the activists' actions, not their intentions.

He "made absolutely clear they couldn't take into account the motivations and reasons the defendants took the action" and that those charged must be found guilty if they blocked the train, said Mike Schwarz, a solicitor for the trio.

Jurors unanimously found Eastburn, 52, Mark Ovland, 36, and Luke Watson, 30, guilty of disrupting the Docklands Light Railway train in Canary Wharf in east London on April 17, but noted they delivered the verdict "with regret".

The trio will be sentenced on Thursday.

"It's incredibly frustrating and disappointing, the way the judge shut it down straightaway," Eastburn told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "What we did, we did for very good reasons."

"The climate emergency is just that, not a metaphor," she added. "It's desperate. I'm going to do whatever I need to do to safeguard my children. That's my duty as a mother."

Schwarz said the judge's ruling did not set a strong legal precedent but deciding to take away the "necessity" defence before giving the case to a jury was, in his view, "premature, significant and a wrong decision".

"The jury are there to judge the facts and give their own views on right or wrong," he said.

The judge and prosecutor, however, said they feared allowing such a defence would "open the floodgates" to other such claims.

An Extinction Rebellion spokeswoman said the trial was the first where arrested activists were heard by a jury.

The group has called for governments to set a 2025 deadline to reduce climate-changing emissions to net zero, to declare climate emergencies and to set up citizen assemblies to give people a greater voice in political decision-making.

More than 1,800 Extinction Rebellion activists were arrested during two weeks of street protests in October in London, police said, after 1,100 were arrested in similar April protests.

(Reporting by Laurie Goering @lauriegoering; editing by Belinda Goldsmith and Megan Rowling Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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