British Jury Says Greenpeace Protesters Were Right to Vandalize Coal Plant

By Eliza Strickland | September 11, 2008 4:34 pm

Greenpeace coalA British jury has cleared six Greenpeace activists of causing criminal damage when they vandalized a power plant last year in a protest over global warming, based on the defense attorneys’ argument that the protesters were trying to prevent even worse damage from climate change. Yesterday’s verdict is expected to embarrass the government and lead to more direct action protests against energy companies [The Guardian].

Last October, the Greenpeace protesters scaled the smokestacks of a coal-fired power plant as a publicity stunt to protest the United Kingdom’s continued reliance on coal-fired power plants, which emit large amounts of the greenhouse gases responsible for global warming. The protesters were halfway through painting a slogan on the side of one smokestack (“Gordon, bin it,” a British way of asking Prime Minister Gordon Brown to chuck coal), when the police served the activists an injunction by helicopter and forced them to stop. They were charged with causing more than $50,000 in damages based on the cost of removing the paint. E.ON, which owns the power plant, said that the company was in a state of shock over the verdict [The Times].

Jurors accepted defence arguments that the six had a “lawful excuse” to damage property at Kingsnorth power station in Kent to prevent even greater damage caused by climate change. The defence of “lawful excuse” under the Criminal Damage Act 1971 allows damage to be caused to property to prevent even greater damage – such as breaking down the door of a burning house to tackle a fire [The Independent]. The trial was a remarkable affair featuring testimony by an Inuit leader from Greenland and NASA climate scientist James Hansen, who argued that the world needs an immediate moratorium on new coal-fired power plants.

The reprieved activists greeted the verdict with delight. “This verdict marks a tipping point for the climate change movement,” said Ben Stewart, one of the six. “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” [Reuters].

Image: flickr/Capitan Giona

  • Aaron

    As long as they stop at painting a smokestack and don’t move on to ransacking energy companies, I don’t really see this decision as a big deal either way. Quiet protest is one thing, the problem is when the crazier ones stop making publicity stunt type “direct action” and start threatening the lives and families of people.

  • Leslie Markham

    What’s disturbing is that Hansen, in direct violation of NASA’s code of ethics posted on the NASA Office of General Council webpage, would actually defend persons who admit their guilt. From the Goddard Institute for Space Studies web page:
    GISS is a component laboratory of Goddard Space Flight Center?s Earth Sciences Division, which is part of GSFC?s Sciences and Exploration Directorate. Thus Hansen falls under these ethics rules.

    Specifically, Dr. Hansen?s defense of vandalism in the name of a cause he believes in fails under the NASA Misuse of position rule. If he received compensation of any kind, such as airfare, rooms, board etc. to appear as a NASA expert, he would also be breaking other NASA conduct rules.

    And if you don’t believe the crazier whackos of the green movement won’t use this to cause more and dangerous damage, wake up. They’ve been waiting for jury nullification and now they have it. I’d like to see the jurors’ faces when they have no heat this winter in their homes because activists they cleared have sabotaged a power plant.

  • Alex Majthenyi

    Sanctioning vandalism for any cause is not acceptable. Having a NASA employee defend the criminals is worse.

    Was the Dr Hanson’ trip and testimony approved by NASA?
    Was his trip and time paid by NASA?
    Was he paid in England for use US government data?

    NASA owes us an explanation

  • benji

    what is the matter with you people?!? Every time I read an amazing story like this, what usually follows are people disgusted or opposing the event or action. Don’t you see we are now nearing the point of no return. Can you not see that our planet cannot take any more and if we continue with the stupid games the government tries to sell us and continue to delay what we are capable of today we are sure to be in serious serious problems!

    I’m sorry, but when someone from NASA bends over backwards to support a just cause, all I can think to do is applaud this person and hope than this trend continues!

    Yes and lets worry about our economy right? Converting our energy production facilities over to renewable and clean energy sources might have an adverse effect on our economy, but what economy will we have left when we are all dying of disease, our water supplies are contaminated, the intense and extreme weather systems are destroying our cities and the air we breath is polluted to the max. WAKE UP PEOPLE. THIS IS NO LONGER JUST A THEORY!!! Drop the skepticism and do something already!!!

  • http://n/a Paul Brown

    “Drop the skepticism and do something already!!!” Two wrongs never make a right. Vandalism is childish, immature, and a poor way to get anything accomplished. The Jury’s ruling sidesteps all reason and social codes to allow for the ends to justify the means. It’s more than likely that Greenpeace, as well as other groups and individuals will take this as a green light to go ahead and launch any kind of “operations” against other groups, companies, or people that disagree with their point of view. The issue here is not damage to the climate or the environment. The issue here is the encouragement of near terrorism. If painting a smoke stack is ok, then what’s wrong with throwing paint on people who wear fur coats? What’s wrong with going in to department stores and destroying merchandise that might be a cause of global warming, or suspected child labor? Who’s to say that the line shouldn’t be drawn at setting a gas station on fire? What if some one believes that murdering a CEO of any given company might help save the planet? I hesitate to go to far in my examples, as it may ring similar to fear-mongering, but it’s all the same principle, correct? I hope that justice eventually finds it’s way to those responsible for these heinous actions.

  • Brett

    Comparing a paint job on a smoke stack to destruction, and killing seems a little far fetched. I would say a little paint won’t hurt anyone. If anything they risked their lives up there to get a good message across, hopefully that is far as they go. Otherwise greenpeace themselves will become the enemy and lose all respect for the environmental movement, if they go farther.

  • Carl Caster

    There is no longer any doubt that the power companies are destroying the world. Their defender’s use of the “law” to protect the world-wide destruction the energy companies are embarked upon is of no weight. To the contrary, the thinking people of the world are entitled to defend themselves against the assault.

  • James Andre

    Wow. People actually have the nerve to come here and decry the actions of the protesters. “Jury nullification” and “two wrongs don’t make a right.” I repeat: wow.

    In case you missed it, the article clearly states the protesters had a ‘lawful excuse’ based upon the rule of law.

    In case you need that interpreted, it means they were right.

    Perhaps you prefer fascism?

  • Reese

    Paul Brown quit being so narrow minded. There are some instances where vandalism can be used for good. I dont agree with Greenpeace or the ruling but to say that “Vandalism is childish, immature, and a poor way to get anything accomplished” is a stupid narrow minded argument.

  • R.A.

    To think that this is a good idea of protest is ludicrous what these “activists” did was no much more than something equivalent to painting “get out niggers” on to a black family’s house. I am disgusted at greenpeace for this and I believe that they should stick to better forms of protest, ones that are peaceful and do not cause damage to people’s property, they wouldn’t like it much if I came up and spray painted all over their homes would they? They should not only be required to pay the fines to repair the smokestacks but they should do so willingly, if you can’t do the time don’t do the crime, you know? If you do something and get caught man up, grow a pair and take some responsibility for your actions.

  • Paola Chantal

    It was a smokestack, not a home. To compare it to the racial vandalism is not only incorrect, it’s wildly exaggerated. Not everything can be defined in terms of black and white, and there are times in which extreme measures must be taken to demonstrate an important course of action, which, in this case, happens to be a global issue that will surely be the death of us if these matters aren’t brought to the attention of the public.

  • A Voice

    At least they are trying to do something.

    And kudos to Benjii (and all others who agree); It’s hard on the internet to agree with the subject being displayed: It seems like people on the internet are the epitome of non-conformity. Try thinking for yourselves for once.

    This court case opens up many doors for the climate-change movement. It’s just goes to show that the court recognizes that coal-fired power plants indeed lead to a greater damage, which can give a little bit of leeway for people trying to make a change.

  • Joe

    Ethical responsibilities are broken all the time when they conflict with other ethical responsibilities that supersede them. Our survival needs supersede property rights. Governments violate property rights when they tax their citizens, but the tax money is supposed to be used for defense and provisions serving the greater good. There is no difference between this and the way these activist acted, and this jury recognized this.

    Yes, this corporation had its property rights violated (if corporations should even have rights, as opposed to privileges granted by community charters). However, they were violating a much greater need and responsibility that we all have to protect ourselves and the environment. How does the vandalism of these activist compare to vandalism and destruction that these smokestacks cause? Civil disobedience in necessary when legal loop holes and political inaction threaten us all.

  • efewfewfwefew

    so, if on the 25th april 1986 i had written “be really f***ing careful tomorrow or loads of people will die” on the walls of the nuclear power plant at chernobyl i would have been… wrong to do so?

    [Moderator’s note: edited the cuss word.]

  • Covington Paige

    Well put, Efew. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    Come on, you sheeple. Wake up and smell the napalm. This whole elitist social structure you’ve nestled yourself into over the past few decades cannot support itself any longer. The world can’t, and won’t, continue to buckle under the weight of our idiocy for but so much longer.

    We’re raping this planet of it’s beauty, it’s biodiversity, and it’s natural resources at an ALARMING rate. Hundreds of animal and plant species are going extinct annually. You think those precious laws and ethical constructs you hold dear will count for sh** after the food runs out? When the pollution destroys our entire global ecosystem?

    No, it’ll be Anarchy. And so, to prevent Anarchy, we must throw as many wrenches into the gears of this f***ed up system as we can.

    Power to the People.

  • Peter

    Well i’ll just be glad the day politicians wake up and do something about the climate rather than diddling about how much it costs in the short term. Most of them don’t plan 40 years into the future just up to the point their term ends.

    Besides removing fossil fuel burning power plants that includes automobile engines are good overall not just in terms of reducing pollution as well as the adverse effects of global warming, ocean and land acidification. It also has a very direct impact founded on basic chemistry…. for every bit of carbon or hydrogen burnt, oxygen is required….. i kind of still like to be able to breathe at a old age.


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