Just Stop Oil activist urges jurors to apply ‘conscience’ in M25 protest trial

By The Guardian (World News) | Created at 2024-07-10 12:55:23 | Updated at 2024-07-21 19:12:39 1 week ago


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A climate activist accused of plotting to bring the M25 to a standstill urged jurors to apply their “conscience and common sense” to the case before they began their deliberations.

Just Stop Oil protesters are said to have caused more than £500,000 worth of damage and delayed about 480,000 rush-hour journeys by scaling gantries over the motorway between 7 and 10 November 2022.

The Extinction Rebellion co-founder Roger Hallam, 58, is accused of having planned the protest with Daniel Shaw, 38, Louise Lancaster, 58, Lucia Whittaker De Abreu, 34, and Cressida Gethin, 22.

The plan was for 16 Just Stop Oil protesters to climb on to the gantries over the M25 every day, and the activists organised height training and rehearsed a “blue lights policy”, which was to avoid closing off the hard shoulder so police could still get past, the court heard.

The jury was told that accommodation was booked near to the gantries and used as “safe houses” where the activists would go two days before the planned protest. Lancaster booked a house in south-east London, paying £1,034.93 to stay from 4-7 November 2022.

In her closing speech, Whittaker De Abreu explained to the jury why there had been so much disruption throughout the trial.

“I can’t use my speech to tell you about my background story. I am sorry about that. I would like to have done that,” she said.

“We had one main intention for the trial. Our intention was not to disrupt the trial or to keep ourselves out of prison. Our main intention was to tell the whole truth. Had we been allowed to explain our actions to you, to set it in context and tell our side of the story there would have been no disruption.

“Human actions can only ever be understood in context. If you are in a hotel in the middle of the night and you are woken by the sound of shouting you might initially feel anger and frustration, but then you realise they are shouting fire. By waking you up they are saving your life. Actions can only be understood in their context.

“My co-defendants desperately tried to communicate evidence of the threat to all lives, a direct result of the greed of fossil fuel companies and their allies in government. I feel like we are being gaslit, like we are going mad. I feel like this is a horror movie and I want to wake up.”

Whittaker De Abreu claimed the action taken by JSO had worked, because Keir Starmer announced in 2023 that there would be no new oil and gas licenses issued under a Labour government.

“It was not our primary intention to disrupt anyone,” she said. “Our primary intention was to protect. Our action was CPR around the heart of the nation.”

Whittaker De Abreu added: “You are individually and collectively the most powerful people in this courtroom. You are citizens able to apply your conscience and common sense to what is happening in this courtroom and to place events in their context.”

In his summing up to the jury, the judge, Christopher Hehir, explained why he had stopped the protesters from talking about climate change in their evidence and closing speeches.

“My duty is to uphold the law,” he said. “In England and Wales the law is that the sincerely held beliefs of protesters is not a defence. My obligation is to direct you in accordance with the law. The defendants may not like the law. You may not like the law. But that doesn’t stop it being the law.”

The judge said it was possible to protest peacefully in the UK.

“If you protest in Parliament Square you are not going to be run over by a tank in this country,” he said. “The truest illustration of the fact that we are a functioning democracy is that the entire government has changed. Most of the MPs in the House of Commons are new. The government didn’t change through a military coup or because a foreign government invaded. The government got kicked out at the ballot box. I am not saying that that is good or bad. It illustrates that we have a functioning democracy.”

All five defendants deny one count of conspiracy to intentionally cause a public nuisance.

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