Prof Tony Booth’s XR fire alarm charge at Intercontinental Hotel dismissed
Professor Tony Booth walked away from the City of London Magistrates’ Court a free man after the case against him for sounding the alarm at London’s Intercontinental Hotel during an international ‘Oil and Money’ conference was dismissed today (February 27).
The 75-year old grandfather, a former Research Fellow at the Centre for Commonwealth Education at the University of Cambridge and current Extinction Rebellion campaigner, was charged for his action in October when he pressed the fire alarm on the third floor of the Mayfair hotel which was hosting the 40th Oil and Money conference for CEOs, executives and ministers from the major oil-producing corporations and governments. He made a short video before sounding the alarm, echoing the words of Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish climate activist: “Our house is on fire, this hotel is on fire, our planet is on fire and even if we only have a small chance we must do what we can to put out the flames.”
The hotel’s 1,200 occupants were evacuated to the sound of XR drummers and chants outside. The fire brigade was alerted.
“It was like a slick of all the major oil polluters spilling onto the street,” Prof Booth said of the evacuation. He said that he acted “out of love for his children and grandchildren and for all those who will have to cope with the chaos that is inevitable without rapid change”.
The charge read: “On 08/10/2019 at Intercontinental Hotel London, 1, Hamilton Place, London W1J 7QY knowingly caused to be given a false alarm of fire to a person acting on behalf of a fire and rescue authority, contrary to section 49 of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2001.”
“It was brilliant,” Prof Booth said following the dismissal at the City of London Magistrates’ Court in Queen Victoria Street. “The judge said he thought I ‘feel deeply for the truth’ on the dangers of climate breakdown and so believed me when I said that I did not know when I pressed the alarm that there was a direct connection to the fire service. When I saw the fire engines I regretted that this had been a consequence of the action aimed at clearing the Oil and Money conference.”
The intervention follows a career encouraging the teaching of sustainability issues.
“I spent my salaried working life as a professor of education, in which I integrated an imperative for attending to the sustainability of life on earth into the way we think about the development of schools and education systems in the UK and other countries,” Prof Booth told the Cambridge Independent. “I am in Extinction Rebellion in Cambridge. When it started I felt a strong affinity with its idea of mass activism.
“Before the Extinction Rebellion actions in London last October, Cambridge XR considered possible actions tied to events happening in London at the same time. To some of us, the absurdly named ‘Oil and Money’ conference, meeting for the first three days of the October action, seemed like an obvious target.
“We decided that we would disrupt the conference and add to the pressure on the organisers who had already had to respond to the withdrawal of sponsorship by the New York Times who felt that their image was being spoiled by association with such major polluters of the planet. We joined a demonstration outside it on the Monday evening to assess the security and make a plan. A large banner reading ‘Climate Crime Scene’ was being displayed by one of the demonstrating groups who kindly leant it to us for our action the following day. We hoped to unfurl it inside the meeting hall.
“On the Tuesday morning I approached the hotel with the banner wrapped round my body under my shirt. After having breakfast, as the conference was due to open, two of us approached the hall expressing our interest in the topic and hoping to slip past those checking names, but we were turned away. We decided to find a window that opened in the upper floors from which the banner could be hung but we found no access to the outside.
“However, we did notice the fire alarms and decided that setting one off would be justified given the seriousness of the global predicament where fires, unprecedented in extent, raged in California, Canada, Australia and even in the Arctic. We waited until the conference hall filled up with delegates and the demonstrators were in full voice outside.
“Around 10.30am we went up to the fire alarm on the third floor and video recorded my short announcement. I then lifted a flap over the alarm button and pressed it. I have been accused of breaking the alarm but there was no glass to break. The alarm sounded and a call came over loudspeakers for the building to be evacuated. People started moving quickly towards the fire exits and we joined them. Despite my concern that the conference was filled with executives carrying flame-throwers to set fire to the world, no actual flames appeared inside the building or climbed the hotel cladding and so the fire service was able to depart quickly.”
The dismissal of the case means that Prof Booth’s legal costs are paid in full.
“I think it’s a very important judgement and it means that similar questions will be asked about other projects such as the Cambridge Autonomous Metro - precisely what calculations have been made regarding the emissions during construction of the metro, which must be huge?” Prof Booth concluded, adding. “The verdict was really encouraging because the judge was interested and pretty sympathetic really. Combined with the Heathrow judgement there’s a bit of optimism that things can change.”
Jason Scott-Warren, fellow Cambridge academic and Extinction Rebellion arrestee, commented: “Tony set off the fire alarm in a single building, echoing Greta Thunberg who sounded the alarm for the whole world. Huge respect to the judge for defending our planet from the endless greed of oil producers.”
An XR spokesperson said: “Developments over the last 24 hours are historic and are proof that the legal system is waking up to the existential threat posed by climate crisis. Tony’s acquittal should give fossil fuel companies pause for thought - their social license to operate is quickly disappearing.”
More by this authorMike Scialom