Court Statements

S14 trial at City of London Magistrates

By Mikey

A folder with tabs on it.  There is a statue of Quan Yin on the folder and a number of coloured cue cards with a lotus patch all pinned together.

As a teenager I was so bad at facing difficult things that I had my GCSE results sent away to a family friend so that I didn’t have to face them. I was acutely sensitive to failure and rejection and strived to remove myself from situations where they might be present. But as I grew into my twenties I found turning and facing unpleasant things was incrementally easier the more I did it. 

Deep into my thirties it came as a surprise to me to have this childhood coping mechanism re-emerge. When did this turning away appear? When I should have been preparing for a trial. I had been charged with a breach of section 14 of the Public Order Act, or as I called it ‘meditating in the road’. Instead of preparing my defense I found myself watching a lot of Homeland, and it also seemed far easier to watch long legal commentaries on the state of Britney Spears’ conservatorship than to prepare my own defence. To try and make progress I fell back on the bargaining that got me through my university coursework. Back then 150 words would get me a cappuccino, today writing a couple of cue cards would get me a whole episode of spy TV. I kept thinking that in the final week before my trial I’d be motivated to work on my defence, or in that final weekend, or the day before, or on the train ride to London. But motivation never really materialised. 

I managed to do bits and pieces. I decided I wanted to talk about heatwaves and drew on the Climate Change Risk Assessment from the Climate Change Committee, and particularly their briefing on the risks associated with higher temperatures. I wanted to make the point that while my motivation to act was the impact of climate change on the most vulnerable and those who had contributed least, there are very real impacts felt here too. 

The solicitor who had helped me with the plea hearing was kind enough to be quite direct with me about my chances in the trial. I had no effective legal defence. I had the sense that she was rather worn out by these activists pursuing legally incomprehensible strategies. And yet having a trial felt very important. After a long career of public silence in the civil service, the opportunity to state my truth out loud was important to me. 

However I felt quite confused about my own defence. Was I guilty? Had I set out to break the law on purpose? Was the aim to get convicted? And if so, what sort of defence statement should I make? I was holding in my head two slightly contradictory ideas: 1) that civil disobedience is a plausible tactic to enact change – and that can involve breaking the law – therefore I am guilty; and 2) I’m not guilty because this is an emergency – a moral argument, but not one the court accepts. 

A few things helped me in the run-up to the trial: Lucy Chan gave a lovely talk about Fierce Compassion at one of our meetings, and it helped me to connect with embodied compassion (something that I’d been struggling with); I took the Quan Yin statue I’d acquired after the last Rebellion with me to London for the trial; and I thought of my favourite chapter in Satya’s book Dear Earth about being held in the lap of the Buddha. As I made my way to court in a slightly cramped taxi, I remembered reading about the concept of bombu nature – that we are all foolish beings – and that cheered me up! Here I was, clasping my foolish folder of papers in my sweaty hands, my foolish cue cards, my foolish defence. And I would go to court and meet the foolish judge and the foolish prosecutor, and we would have a foolish trial. 

I was found guilty in a hot, stuffy courtroom on the 13th of July. The Judge had been reasonable and polite. In his judgement on the case he gave us a gentle 30-minute schooling on how the law does and doesn’t work. I had been worried about breaking down in court before the trial, but on the day I’d found myself nervous but steady. The only moment I felt a slight prickling behind my eyes was when the judge pronounced us guilty. The upshot of all of it was a nine-month conditional discharge and £322 in costs. 

On the coach back to Bristol I texted my friends and family updates on the trial, and assurances that I was feeling buoyant. “I’m a bona fide criminal!” I told them. I’m still processing what that means. 

The socialisation I received about crime and justice as a child – that only bad people are guilty of crimes – will take time to unlearn. I can hold in my head statistics and arguments about failures of the criminal justice system, including its systematic bias against Black people and other ethnic minorities. I know and respect many activists who have broken the law. I am inspired by historical examples of people who chose non-violent civil disobedience. I still think about Martin Luther King’s letter from Birmingham Jail. I was energised by John Lewis’s idea of ‘good trouble’. And yet, despite knowing all of that, my having a criminal record still seems novel and unlikely.

What happens next? I don’t really know, but the world is still not paying enough attention to the urgency of climate change. I still believe in non-violent civil disobedience as a tactic for creating change (though not the only one). I think there are more sacrifices I can make. 

But, if the Crown Prosecution Service is reading this, the answer is I’m definitely not going to get in more trouble. Or at least not for the next nine months. 

Mikey is an XR Buddhist activist currently working on the Camino to COP. They have previously written about their their arrest and experience of juggling their civil service career and activism.

Yogaratna’s Not Guilty Plea

A man in a blue boiler suit stretches out his hand against an old stone walled building.  He is using his hand and black chalk paint to create outlines of his hand against the stone.

My action (as part of the Oily Hands protest on 28 August last year) was aimed at encouraging the University of Cambridge to divest from climate-wrecking fossil fuel investments.  I did this because there is a climate emergency, which the University of Cambridge is not treating like an emergency.  I believe my action was necessary and morally justified by the situation, therefore not criminal.  If you break down a door to rescue someone from a burning house, breaking the door is not criminal damage.  I’ll also be arguing that what happened was not ‘damage’, and giving evidence that I didn’t intend to cause damage.  I’ll be referring to the right to protest, and to cause some disruption, which so far has been respected by the police, and arguing that my action was legitimate and proportionate protest in that sense.

You might possibly sympathise with wanting to do something positive about climate breakdown.  But you may think that the situation does not justify tactics like chalk-spraying on a wall, that other means were open to me, my action was not a lesser evil, justified as an attempt to prevent a greater evil.

So what about these tactics, including things like chalk-spraying on a wall?  I appreciate that many people don’t like XR and its tactics.  But there is a background which makes these tactics necessary.  There has been 30 years or so of petitions from environmental pressure groups, of the Green Party struggling to be heard with a political system and media heavily dominated by big business which is almost entirely hostile to green issues.  30 years of almost no substantial action on climate breakdown by governments of both ends of the political spectrum.  But the climate situation, attested to by David Attenborough and the climate scientists, is desperate.  

I’m not going to throw lots of facts and figures at you.  And I’m not in any way minimising the suffering of anyone in the current pandemic.  Coronavirus has rightly been front page news every single day for the last year — but we need at least that kind of response to the threat of climate breakdown.  In fact the magnitude of suffering on its way to us from the breakdown of Earth’s living systems is far greater than what we have experienced over the last twelve months.

So the situation is desperate. But what about these activist tactics such as chalk-spraying a wall?  There is research commissioned by the very reputable Wellcome Trust (1) showing that people don’t like XR and its tactics, but that those same people do know and remember what XR is saying — a lot more than they know and remember the messages of other campaigning groups.  This kind of activism is unpopular but has raised people’s awareness and people’s minds are changing.  Since our action, the University of Cambridge and Trinity College separately have both announced plans (2) to divest from fossil fuel investment.  And in his statement Professor Stephen Toop (Vice Chancellor) explicitly recognised that morally this is the right thing to do.  But this is only after 5 years of campaigning by many people.  Climate change has shot up the agenda in this country in the last few years, for example the wave of local councils declaring a climate emergency after XR’s actions in April 2019.  There are many reasons for that, it’s not just down to XR.  But would all this really have happened without the pressure from activists?   

So there is evidence that conventional tactics have on the whole not worked, that these more direct tactics have had a positive impact, and that they are needed.  I sincerely wish these tactics were not needed, but they are.  And I sincerely regret if anyone felt hurt or offended by my action.  I did not do this lightly.  But what are the consequences of not speaking out on this issue?  This is an emergency, the alarm needs raising because action is not happening at anything like the scale or urgency that is needed. In an emergency, you need to get peoples attention, even if that means annoying them.

You may think that comparing my action to breaking down a door to rescue someone from a burning house is far-fetched.  But climate breakdown is an immediate threat to human life.  The climate scientists have found that people have been dying due to climate change since 2003.  And that includes deaths due to climate change in this country since 2010.

 I’d like to address the issue of damage for a moment.  I used chalk spray, which is very soluble in water, because my clear and deliberate  intention was to make a statement without causing damage.  I believe that something that can be thoroughly cleaned with water and a little abrasion cannot legitimately be described as damage.  I’m a dementia healthcare assistant whose gross hourly pay rate is £9.89 per hour.  Whatever the financial cost is of cleaning the wall, I believe it should be met by Trinity College, having profited for so many years from its deeply unethical climate-wrecking fossil fuel investments.

A word about protest.  The police and criminal justice system have so far recognised that there is a right to protest, and even that that protest might disrupt other people to some extent.  My action falls within that category.  Peaceful legitimate protest should not be criminalised.

Lastly, I’d like to tell you a little about myself.  I’d like to point out how ordinary I am.  I’m not alienated from society, I’m one of the majority of ordinary people in this country who want serious action to be taken on this threat to all our futures.  My first real job was 6 years in the Home Office in Westminster (mainly in the probation service policy unit).  I chose the Home Office because I believed in law and order, as I still do.  I value public service.  I’m an ordained Buddhist, and I’ve been a carer for the last 10 years – for the last 6 years on a dementia assessment unit.  I care very much about ethics.

Having said that, I’ve no wish to say I or we are the good guys and they are the bad guys.  I’ve no wish to polarise or demonise.  I know the world is complex, and I know from personal experience that there are some very fine and ethical people working for the University of Cambridge.  But the law should be about ethics, and appropriately holding people and institutions to account for their actions. The University of Cambridge has been (and is still being) criminally irresponsible and should itself be on trial.  What I did was legitimate and proportionate protest, not a crime. 

  1. https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/opinion/extinction-rebellion-protest-london-boris-johnson-climate-crisis-newspapers-b404981.htm
  2. On 1st October 2020, Cambridge University publicly pledged to divest from all direct and indirect investments in fossil fuels by 2030. Professor Stephen J Toope, Vice-Chancellor, stated: “The University is responding comprehensively to a pressing environmental and moral need for action with an historic announcement that demonstrates our determination to seek solutions to the climate crisis.”  University of Cambridge pledges divestment from fossil fuels by 2030 https://www.cam.ac.uk/news/cambridge-to-divest-from-fossil-fuels-with-net-zero-plan

Dr Helen Skilton’s Mitigation Statement

1) Helen being carried away by five police officers.

2) Helen sitting down whilst a police officer takes notes
Helen’s arrest

I am pleading guilty to the charge of obstruction, because I was, intentionally obstructing the road outside the Oil and Gas Fiscal Summit in Oct 2019 as part of Extinction Rebellion’s peaceful civil disobedience protest.

I did it because it is the only thing I can think of to highlight, to the general public and those in power, that we are harming our planet and that we are going to have to change to prevent reaching tipping points of no return.

I am a Biology teacher and I teach ‘Climate Change and Human Impact’ to my pupils at GCSE and A level. It is in the syllabus, it is in all the text books. It is a scientific fact that humans are having a devastating impact on our environment causing destruction and ultimately extinction of many organisms.

We have taken over half the habitable land to grow our food and we are polluting our land, sea and air, with little, if any, accountability. Our world is no longer a safe place for most living organisms, including many humans, and without change it will get far worse.  

I would like the truth about how serious this issue is to be told.  Not just in school text books but in our politics, our media, our culture: places where everyone can hear it, again and again, loud and clear. We are going to have to change, otherwise a tsunami of devastation is going to hit us.

We, the human race, are not separate from the rest of this world. We are not independent, we are just one small part of an amazing planet, with miraculous conditions for life. This planet does not belong to us. We belong to this planet. All the elements we use, flow through us. We breath air, oxygenated by plants and algae. We eat food, made from other living organisms. We consume water and minerals, that are recycled through our atmosphere. Not one part of our live-support is separate from any other part of this world.

Currently, it is not a crime to pollute and destroy our life-support system and it is a not crime for our government & media to keep denying, deflecting and delaying. But there should be.

Until there is a law protecting our living planet from destruction, people who are aware, will just have to keep obstructing highways, disrupting business-as-usual, until the truth is told and we start acting now.

Satya’s mitigation statement

Satya is wearing her priest robes, sitting cross legged on the ground, crying.  A police officer bends down to speak to her.

Today I received a conditional discharge for my third arrest on September 3rd last year. Here’s the mitigating statement I included with my guilty plea. Onwards, dear friends. Our Dear Earth needs us. With love & grief <3

“I have been a law-abiding citizen all of my life and I respect the difficult job that the police and our courts have to do. I made a conscious decision to break the law as a part of the Extinction Rebellion protest as I have felt increasingly desperate about the climate and ecological emergency.

As we know, climate change is already having catastrophic effects across the world. Governments are continuing to fail to meet their own targets of carbon reduction, and the effects of this are spiralling to a frightening degree. After spending a long time with climate science and observing the actions of our own government and big corporations, I no longer have faith in these institutions to handle this emergency. They are not making the radical changes that are necessary to mitigate the worst of the effects of climate heating and ecological devastation, and their actions continue to be woefully inadequate.

I understand why it is difficult for these institutions to take the radical actions they need to take, and, I can no longer stand by and witness their lack of action. In the tradition of other movements demanding radical change, I stand with Extinction Rebellion and their strategy of non-violent direct action, as I strongly believe that these last-resort strategies have the best chance of effecting the kinds of changes we need to effect.

I know that this doesn’t make Extinction Rebellion popular with large sections of society, especially those resisting drastic change and those with the most to lose. I know that this uses up precious police and court resources. I deeply regret the inconvenience and distress that our disruption causes to the public.

I also believe that this disruption is ethically necessary in the face of the much huger catastrophes that await us if the current levels of emissions continue – food shortages, mass migrations, more catastrophic extreme weather events, extinctions… We all know about this crisis, but we turn away.

I can no longer turn away. I am willing to accept the consequence of my actions, which I carried out in the name of our precious Earth.”

Satya Robyn is a Buddhist teacher, writer, psychotherapist, and you can find out more about her love letters to the planet at www.dearearth.co.uk.

Joe’s not guilty plea

In the foreground are two police officers in yellow jackets and police hats, and in the background between them you can see Joe seated on the ground with a placard showing the earth.

I have recently retired after for 26 years in the NHS as a psychotherapist.  I am also a mindfulness teacher in the Buddhist tradition. Over the years of my practice I have developed a familiarity with my inner life which ensures that I do not act impulsively. My decision to occupy the road on the 18th October was based on a long period of reflection, research and discussion with friends.

My reasons are as follows:

That we are in a situation of climate and ecological breakdown is now established beyond any reasonable doubt. The IPCC report in 2018 stated that: ‘only rapid far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society’ will hold any chance of reduce the effects of climate disruption, which includes armed conflict over resources, famine, flooding, mass extinction of species including insects and coral reefs, increasingly frequent weather events such as wild-fires, hurricanes. This is not some dystopian science fiction, or a wild alarmist shouting about end of the world, but the conclusions from thousands of research papers around the world by our best scientists over many years.

The crisis is not just happening at some comfortable distance or happening in a remote date in the future. From various studies across the world in the last year we know that we have already lost 75% of insect species, half of all wildlife, half of our tropical forests, and 24 million people were forced to move due to climate instability this year and this set to increase hugely. To take a couple of statistics in detail: we have now lost 90% of our nightingales, and 75% of our butterflies. Will our children grow into a world without butterflies – without the song of the Nightingale? What kind of a world is it that does not respond in the face of such tragedy?

I am alarmed and dismayed that in the face of this widely known and well-documented and proven evidence, that our Government’s response has been utterly inadequate.

 As a psychotherapist I am only too aware of the potentially lethal costs of denial of reality. Just as an alcoholic or a drug addict continues to destroy themselves whilst claiming they have everything under control, as a species we are sleep-walking toward the precipice. In the face of this I must ask myself what am I called upon to do? What truly matters? I have 2 children in their early 20s who on our current trajectory stand to inherit an impoverished, nightmare world ravaged by famine, storms, mass migration and war.

What am I to do as a parent, as a Buddhist, as a human being? What is the path of compassion, the path of wisdom in our current terrifying predicament? If there is anyone in this courtroom who has a better solution than the action I took on the 18th October, sitting in peaceful meditation on Oxford street, please tell me. I have been an activist for most of my life and believe me, have done everything else: petitions, planning responses, marches, letters to my MP, street actions. All worthy in themselves, but the evidence is clear to me: they were not enough, not nearly enough. My decision to engage in non-violent civil disobedience was not an easy choice, but I can see no other.

I would like to submit the defence of necessity. On this I note the following definition from Archbold (2019) .. (17- 117):

Stephen, Digest of the Criminal Law, p. 9, says that an act which would otherwise be a crime may in some cases be excused if the defendant can show:

(a)     that it was done only in order to avoid consequences which could not otherwise be avoided and which, if they had followed, would have inflicted upon him, or upon others whom he was bound to protect, inevitable and irreparable evil;

(b)     that no more was done than was reasonably necessary for that purpose; and

(c)     that the evil inflicted by it was not disproportionate to the evil avoided.”

To take each in turn:

a) That my actions were taken in order to avoid ‘inevitable and irreparable evil’ is I think beyond reasonable doubt. I can think of no other disaster in the history of our civilisation that comes close in scale and magnitude to the tide of horror and suffering which is gathering pace as we steadfastly look the other way.

b) I submit that sitting in the road was reasonable in that it was a given that all previous strategies to raise the alarm have failed to change our course.

c) I hope it is self evident that the evil inflicted – which was at the level of inconvenience to the public  – was not disproportionate to the evil avoided . Here we are comparing the possibility of some inconvenience to some members of the public with the certainty of incalculable suffering on already occurring on a global scale and which is set to intensify.

And so to conclude I submit that the defence of necessity applies in my case.

And from a personal perspective, non-violent civil disobedience is the path I have chosen, and did not choose lightly, but only after reflection and an examination of the evidence from my own experience of activism and from the evidence of its historical efficacy.

My conclusion, to summarise, is this:

As a society we are out of time.

And I   am out of options.

Thank you

Joe is a a vipassana meditation practitioner and teacher, psychotherapist and long-time activist.

Paul’s mitigation statement

Paul standing in front of a wooden gate which has a sign on it which says 'Strawberry Hill Farm' and another which has a sad face and HS2 crossed out.

I am 67 in March and up until 2019 I have been a law-abiding citizen. I have spent my working life in business and organisations as a leadership professional focusing on Leadership Responsibility and business practice, with a strong belief that principle centred businesses could contribute to a sustainable and safe future.

However, when in 2019 I became aware of the compelling scientific evidence around the immediate climate crisis, I realised that it was too late to rely on business to drive the agenda for change, particularly in view of the wide spread ignorance and denial of scientific evidence.

It was then I decided to actively see what I could do to help build awareness of our predicament. I am pleased to say that we now are living at a time where awareness of the climate crisis is widespread. However, response to that knowledge falls short and it was this that dro.ve me to add my voice to those with growing concerns that we are moving past key deadlines that will radically impact our environment and future generations

In the UK I would like to be able to say that our Government is responding accordingly, and indeed we are hearing the right words being spoken, but unfortunately in many instances the actions are directly contradictory to what was being said(see below).

This was made evident to me when, just before my arrest in September, I visited the HS2 camp at Jones Hill, and unfortunately directly witnessed this hypocrisy. I also witnessed it again at the Euston Square site in London and it was then I decided that I wanted to use my legitimate right to protest by sitting in protest on Lambeth Bridge.

Below I have listed the factual evidence of the duplicitous statements made by the Government and the reality in terms of the HS2 project

“At home we are putting biodiversity targets into law; removing deforestation from our own supply chains” (Boris Johnson )

“We are going to make sure the natural world stays right there, top of the global agenda” (Boris Johnson 2020)

“Left unchecked the consequences will be catastrophic for us all” (Boris Johnson 2020)

“Extinction is forever” (Boris Johnson) 

Fact: HS2 is currently the biggest deforestation project in Europe

Fact: HS2 will not be carbon neutral in its 120 year lifespan-HS2 Review

As well as destroying our natural ancient woodland heritage, there is scientific evidence, endorsed by David Attenborough, which points to a direct correlation between pandemics and the displacement of virus carrying smaller mammals through deforestation and biodiversity breakdown.

 Our PM’s recent words reflect the urgency of the climate crisis and yet continuing projects like HS2 directly contradicts his own declarations. Opposition from the public to HS2 is increasing daily and a growing number of MPs are also beginning to question its legitimacy and need.

In summary I felt compelled to call out and hold the government to account for not living up to it’s strong and public commitments and for actively pursuing such projects that demonstrate that their words are merely that, just words – but ones with damaging consequences.

Paul Wielgus combines his Buddhist and secular mindfulness teaching with Eco-Dharma practices such as Joanna Macy’s ‘Work That Reconnect’; he is currently engaging in an enquiry into Buddhist attitudes to racial justice and related issues.