‘Beautiful’ XR activism that resulted in criminal charges for Cambridge protesters
Cambridge’s Extinction Rebellion (XR) arrestees gathered outside Guildhall this week to share their stories and highlight their concerns that even though they are putting their reputations - and wallets - on the line, the government response to 2020’s incoming climate change emergency has been unhelpful.
Most of those arrested were taking part in the London XR protests in April and in October last year. The actions of the activists have thrown the legal system into confusion - a police order banning the protests was deemed unlawful late last year. The government has also attempted to label the protest group as a terrorist organisation, then back-tracked when the policy was exposed.
The April protests in the capital, which included a pink boat used to block Oxford Circus and greenery covering Waterloo Bridge, resulted in 1,130 arrests in 11 days under section 14 of the Public Order Act.
Of the five arrestees pictured, Cambridge academic Jason Scott-Warren (centre) was found guilty of an offence under section 14 of the Public Order Act on January 10 and fined a total of £1,180 following a two-day trial at the City of London Magistrates’ Court. The case, which ended on Friday, heard Dr Scott-Warren describe the April Extinction Rebellion protests in London as “exceptionally well-organised, meticulously planned, beautifully executed”.
Arrestee Amelia Halls, a member of XR Youth, told the Cambridge Independent: “I was arrested during the October Rebellion in London for obstruction of the highway outside London City Airport. I’ve been released under investigation which means I haven’t been charged yet. I’m currently waiting to hear from the police about whether or not they decide to charge me – if they do, then I intend to plead not guilty.
“The October Rebellion was an emotional experience. It’s so sad that we have been forced to cause this level of disruption due to the government’s inaction on the climate and ecological emergency.
“However, during the action itself I was surrounded by some of the most passionate, kind, and caring people I have ever met. That’s what is so inspiring about XR – it brings out the absolute best in people, drawing them together to create an environment focused around love and kindness. It’s something we need more of in the world.”
Meanwhile Sophie Draper was arrested on October 14 at Canary Wharf.
“I was charged with aggravated trespass, we were blocking the entrance to Barclays’ HQ,” she says. “I had a plea hearing and pleaded not guilty, then a trial date was set for eight of us in March but my case has now been dropped for lack of evidence.”
It wasn’t a pleasant experience for Sophie.
“Initially I was upset, we were held for 22 hours which was worrying. Now I’m really glad it’s happened and I’m looking forward to the next XR event.”
Finlay Cox said: “I was arrested in April at Oxford Circus, for Section 137 of the Highways Act 1980 - wilful obstruction of the highway - and Section 14 of the Public Order Act. I was taken to Belgravia police station and released pending further investigation. I was later provided with the opportunity to have a voluntary interview which I declined, and I’ve not had any further action taken. I was willing to be arrested in October, but in the end I wasn’t.”
Tamsin Beevor reported: “I was arrested in London, on the edge of Trafalgar Square, on October 10 under Section 14 and obstruction of the highway, and released in the early hours of October 11 pending further investigation. I have not been charged as yet.”
Other Cambridge-based arrestees also spoke of their cases. Jane Carpenter (pictured) said: “I was arrested on April 17 at Oxford Circus for section 14 blocking the highway and disrupting life of the community. I’ve had two trials so far - the first one was adjourned and then a de novo - starting all over again! - which is on February 11-12.
“I’m self-representing and pleading not guilty on basis of necessity.”
Jane Goodland (pictured below being arrested) said: “I was arrested at Oxford Circus on April 17 for breaking section 14 conditions.
“I was on trial on January 6 at City of London magistrates court. I pleaded not guilty on the grounds of necessity - I argued that if I did not act, people all over the world, including here in the UK, would be facing food shortages, natural disasters, flooding, extreme weather, rising sea levels and mass migration. People will be, and already are, suffering in horrible ways and die as a result of climate breakdown. The judge did not accept the argument, and said that ‘a sober person or reasonable mind, in your position, would not have acted as you did’.”
Judges have not always been so condemnatory. In October, Cambridge-based Extinction Rebellion protester Angela Ditchfield was cleared of the criminal damage charge that arose when she sprayed graffiti on a Shire Hall wall in Cambridge.
“I was found guilty with £775 court costs, plus a £30 victim surcharge and an £80 fine,” continued Jane. “I have found the whole process very difficult and distressing, but I don’t regret it, because I know that we’ve changed the conversation around the climate crisis and we’ve done that by thousands of individuals taking a stand, and together, creating a protest that the police just couldn’t cope with. Since then I have seen the police react in a much more heavy-handed way, trying to prevent a similar scale of protest happening again. I believe that they are using these trials to try and discourage us from acting again, but it won’t work, because we care too much.”
A crowdfunding appeal for XR Cambridge arrestees has been set up to raise money for costs incurred from arrests as part of XR actions. Further trial outcomes will be reported.