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Cambridge academic found guilty of XR public order offences

Extinction Rebellion campaigner Jason Scott-Warren at the City of London Magistrates Court today
Extinction Rebellion campaigner Jason Scott-Warren at the City of London Magistrates Court today

Cambridge academic and Extinction Rebellion protestor Jason Scott-Warren has been found guilty of an offence under section 14 of the Public Order Act and fined a total of £1,180 in a two day trial at the City of London Magistrates Court.

The trial, which ended yesterday, heard Dr Scott-Warren describe the April Extinction Rebellion (XR) protests in London as “exceptionally well-organised, meticulously planned, beautifully executed”. “” ‘’

The April protests in the capital, which included a pink boat used to block Oxford Circus and greenery covering Waterloo Bridge, resulted in the arrest of 1,130 arrests in 11 days under section 14 of the Public Order Act. This number included Dr Scott-Warren, a teacher in early modern literature and culture in the Faculty of English at the University of Cambridge, whose £800 fine had additional £300 of court costs plus an £80 victim surcharge.

Speaking of the moment he was arrested, Dr Scott-Warren described a “heart in mouth” moment when he realised what was about to take place. Then, “when a policeman approached me I became suddenly certain that this was the right thing to do”. A crowdfunding appeal for XR Cambridge arrestees has been set up to raise money for costs incurred from arrests as part of XR actions.

“Broadly speaking,” Dr Scott-Warren said after the trial, “the judge rejected the defence of necessity by claiming that our action was not reasonable, because there are many other ways of bringing about political change that do not cause public disruption, including recently through the ballot box.”

Describing a life-long commitment to environmental causes, Dr Scott-Warren told the Cambridge Independent of a rising sense of concern that “the legal courses of action were having no effect”.

“The danger is not danger of global heating or of species deaths, dangerous and imminent though those are,” he said. “The danger is a failure of government to take action. It is a sin of omission not of commission that threatens all of us every minute of every day.

“A landmark ruling at the Dutch Supreme Court in 20 December 2019 makes clear the nature of this threat: to my human rights under Articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention, which protect the right to life and the right to private and family life.”

The Metropolitan Police’s banning of XR protests was also deployed during further protests in October. However, the ban was deemed unlawful and dropped following a High Court case.

Married and with two teenage sons, Dr Scott-Warren insisted that the actions taken by Extinction Rebellion in London in April were proportionate.

“The protests we organised in April were motivated by the dictates of conscience and the necessity of immediate action to prevent government inaction on the climate crisis, a pressing and proximate harm,” he said.

“They had an immediate effect and, although that effect is by no means sufficient, the world is a safer place as a result of our actions. The metaphor I would use for necessity is that I have been locked into a room by a landlord who is releasing poison gas into the room. I choose to break the window and call for help, and then find myself prosecuted for damages and noise pollution. I ask this court to admit an expansion of the defence of necessity to embrace an ethical response to the climate crisis and to defend the right to life.”

With catastrophic fires continuing to rage in Australia, Africa and South America, XR activists insist the battle to get governments to impose reductions on harmful emissions goes on. Next month, XR Youth Cambridge plans a one-week city centre roadblock to highlight the need for the university, city council and county council to divest from fossil fuels with immediate effect.

“The world is on its knees,” Dr Scott-Warren said in his defence at his trial. “I urge you to throw out this vexatious case and to ask the Metropolitan Police and the Crown Prosecution Service to employ their energies for the benefit of all life on earth. I respectfully ask you to find me not guilty.”

Not all XR protesters are found guilty when prosecuted for their activism. In October Extinction Rebellion protester Angela Ditchfield was cleared at Cambridge Magistrates’ Court of the criminal damage charge that arose when she sprayed graffiti on a Shire Hall wall in Cambridge in February.

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