‘We find you not guilty’: XR protester cleared of criminal damage charge
Extinction Rebellion protester Angela Ditchfield has been cleared of the criminal damage charge that arose when she sprayed graffiti on a Shire Hall wall in Cambridge in February.
Ms Ditchfield, who who belongs to King's Hedges Green Party, said at the time: “They watched while the spray painting happened and didn't arrest me,” she told the Cambridge Independent before entering Parkside police station to hear the charge. "They then contacted me a couple of days later to ask me in for a chat and I had an interview under caution. They've called me back in to charge me.”
The lay bench at Cambridge Magistrates’ Court gave their verdict on Wednesday (October 30) regarding the spray-painting of the XR logo and 'RIP??' just to the side of the main door at Shire Hall on December 15, 2018.
It said: “We find that you have a very strong and honestly held belief that we are facing a climate emergency, and that you acted on the spur of moment to protect land and homes under threat from climate change, believing that immediate protection was necessary, and the action could be said to have been taken to protect property, and that you believed action chosen was reasonable in all circumstances. We applied the four-part test in Jones' decision and we find you not guilty.”
In cases of minor criminal damage, acting to prevent immediate damage to property can be counted as a lawful excuse.
In the case, Ms Ditchfield gave evidence that she had tried to persuade local councils to act to prevent climate chaos for many years through standing for the Green Party, and through arranging meetings, petitions and letters. She said that their 550 page business plan for 2018-19 still contained not a single reference to the climate however, and the council continues to promote unsustainable economic growth (eg City Deal) and pursue highly destructive policies.
Ms Ditchfield and spoke of the immediate damage already being suffered as a result of negligent council policies - by people in Bangladesh whose homes are being flooded, African families whose crops are failing, the capital of Indonesia having to be moved because it is being submerged. Closer to home, children on her council estate struggling to breathe because of air pollution.
Defence barrister, Adam Payter, 6KBW said in closing: “The climate and environmental emergency is not a morality tale set in a dystopian future. It is the single most significant problem that humanity has faced and it is happening right now, right here in the UK and across the world.
“As the XR website makes plain: the world is suffering heatwaves, wildfires, storms, rising seas, flooding, ocean acidification, shifting crop patterns, the spread of disease – all of which is damaging property and contributing to the deaths of people.
“Angela also spoke in court of how she was motivated by her faith, and 'by the love I believe Jesus put in me for our brothers and sisters around the world, and for the world he made us guardians of'.”
Angela commented: "I was prepared to live with a criminal record for this action but I'm very relieved I don't have to. I'm very glad to have had the opportunity to expose the council's actions and they have now started taken more action on climate change and I hope to see more of this.
"It is unusual to have a not guilty verdict at a magistrate's court. It was a nice surpise."