Greenpeace activists cleared in landmark global warming trial

Feature story - 10 September, 2008
In an unprecedented trial a UK Crown Court jury has acquitted six Greenpeace UK volunteers of criminal damage to a coal-fired power plant. The jury, consisting of representatives from the British public, found their actions justified when considering the damage to property caused around the world by CO2 emissions from the plant.

Greenpeace cleared! Coal found GUILTY!

The six volunteers - Kevin, Emily, Tim, Will, Ben and Huw - attempted to shut down the Kingsnorth power station in Kent last year by scaling the chimney and painting the Prime Minister's name down the side. The defendants had intended to paint 'GORDON BIN IT' down the side of the chimney but were served a High Court injunction by police helicopter, meaning they only got as far as painting the Prime Minister's first name.

Lawful excuse

They were accused of causing £30,000 (US$53,000) of criminal damage to the Kingsnorth smokestack from painting. The defence was that they had a 'lawful excuse' - because they were acting to protect property around the world "in immediate need of protection" from the impacts of climate change, caused in part by burning coal.

The defence used evidence to prove that burning coal inflicts enormous damage upon ecosystems, people and property across the planet - and that the UK government was failing to take effective action.

This is the first case where preventing property damage from climate change has been used as part of a 'lawful excuse' defence in Crown Court.

NASA scientist called for a moratorium

During the trial, the world's leading climate scientist, James Hansen, came to court and challenged the government's plans for new coal, calling for Gordon Brown to announce a moratorium on all new coal-fired power plants without carbon capture and storage. The environmental policy adviser for the UK shadow Prime Minister said there was "a staggering mismatch between what we've heard from government and what we've seen from government in terms of policy".

An expert on climate change impacts in the UK said some of the property in immediate need of protection from sea level rises included parts of Kent (Kingsnorth being "extremely vulnerable") and that "it behoves us to act with urgency". And an Inuit leader told of his first hand experiences of the impacts of climate change.

After hearing all of the evidence, the jurors supported the right to take direct action to protect the climate from the burning of coal.

The Tipping Point

Seen in the light of the verdict, the plans to build a new coal plant at Kingsnorth (which could emit as much as the world's 30 least polluting countries combined every year for 40 or 50 years) show that Gordon Brown's government is failing to act on climate change. Instead they are pumping out policies that are actively leading us in the wrong (and very dangerous) direction. UK Ministers now find themselves in a very tight corner.

This verdict marks a tipping point for the climate change movement. It stands as an example to governments everywhere and an inspiration to people world-wide that they can and should take a stand against coal fired power stations in defence of the climate!

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