The Maidstone Crown Court heard testimony from NASA climate
expert James Hansen, an Inuit leader from Greenland and the British
Conservative Party's environment adviser. The jury was told that
the Kingsnorth Power Plant emits 20,000 tons of CO2 every day - the
same amount as the 30 least polluting countries in the world
combined - and that the British Government had advanced plans to
build a new coal-fired power station next to the existing site on
the Hoo Peninsula in Kent.
The 'not guilty' verdict means the jury believed that shutting
down the coal plant was justified in the context of the damage to
property caused around the world by CO2 emissions from
One of the Kingsnorth 6, Emily Hall, said after her
"This is a huge blow for [British Prime Minister] Gordon Brown
and his plans for new coal-fired power stations," said Emily Hall,
one of the acquitted activists. "It wasn't only us in the dock, it
was coal-fired power generation as well."
"This verdict marks a tipping point for the climate change
movement," added defendant Ben Stewart. "If jurors from the heart
of Middle England say it's legitimate for a direct action group to
shut down a coal-fired power station because of the harm it does to
our planet, then where does that leave government energy policy? We
have the clean technologies at hand to power our economy, it's time
we turned to them instead of coal."
The defense called as a witness NASA climate expert James
Hansen, who told the court that more than a million species would
be made extinct because of climate change and calculated that
Kingsnorth would proportionally be responsible for 400 of
"We are in grave peril," he told the jury. "Somebody needs to
step forward and say there has to be a moratorium, draw a line in
the sand and say no more coal-fired power stations."
Asked by defense attorney Michael Wolkind if carbon dioxide
damages property, Hansen replied, "Yes, it does." Asked if stopping
emissions of any amount of it therefore protects property, he
replied, "Yes it does, in proportion to the amount." He added that
he thought there was an immediate need to protect property at risk
from climate change.
Conservative Party green adviser Zac Goldsmith also gave
evidence for the defence.
"By building a coal-power plant in this country, it makes it
very much harder in exerting pressure on countries like China and
India," Goldsmith said. "I think that's something that is felt in
Government circles…Legalities aside, I suppose if a crime is
intended to prevent much larger crimes, I think then a lot of
people would consider that as justified and a good thing."
Some of the property the court was told was in immediate need of
protection included parts of Kent at risk from rising sea levels,
the Pacific island state of Tuvalu and areas of Greenland. The
defendants also cited the Arctic ice sheet, China's Yellow River
region, the Larsen B ice shelf in Antarctica, coastal areas of
Bangladesh and the city of New Orleans.
The acquittal is the first case where preventing property damage
from climate change has been used as part of a 'lawful excuse'
defense in court. The defense has previously been successfully
deployed by defendants accused of damaging a military jet bound for
Indonesia to be used in the war against East Timor before