Ratcliffe coal protesters invited to appeal conviction

by Bryan Walker on April 20, 2011

The defence of the Ratcliffe coal power plant protesters in the UK, charged with conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass, was that they were acting through “necessity” to prevent death and serious injury caused by carbon dioxide emissions and climate change. James Hansen was among the defence witnesses, testifying to the reality of the danger from climate change. The prosecution argued that the defendants were not really intending to stop carbon emissions, but instead engaged in a publicity stunt. I wrote in this post in January of the lenient sentencing from a judge who was clearly impressed by the motivation of these “decent men and women with a genuine concern for others”. They were found guilty and had to be punished, albeit leniently.

Their conviction now appears likely to be overturned. The Director of Public Prosecutions, no less, has urged them to appeal their convictions after allegations that police suppressed potentially crucial evidence from an undercover police officer. “I have invited the defence to lodge an appeal and to include the issue of non-disclosure of material relating to the activities of an undercover police officer in any grounds of appeal.”

The story of the undercover officer has been extensively canvassed in the pages of The Guardian in recent months and I won’t try to disentangle it here, but it seems possible that tapes he secretly made of the protesters’ discussions may have helped their defence. The protesters are reported as wanting copies of those tapes and other reports of the undercover operations to help their appeal, and The Guardian comments that this is a move the CPS would now find it hard to resist.

The affair is a reminder of how strong are the forces lined up against climate change action. The law firm which represented the protesters observes:

“The impression remains that the establishment have sought to undermine those campaigning against the urgent and extreme perils of climate change and, once discovered, grudgingly are conceding only as much as they have to when they have to. It has taken two years to get this far and this has only come about as a result of the persistence of climate campaigners.”

George Monbiot is more direct in his trenchant comments yesterday on the issue. He points to the role of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) in overseeing the National Public Order Intelligence Unit which ran the undercover operation. In effect, he says, they were running a private militia, and doing so in the interests of corporate power.

“…police chiefs in this country are out of control. They appear to see their role as protecting corporate power against the people, regardless of what the law says. To this end they are spending both public money and private money extracted from public hands, without obvious lines of accountability or constitutional authority.

“They are behaving as you would have expected the Guardia Civil under Francisco Franco to behave: working for private interests against the public interest.”

He wants them investigated:

“The police chiefs who commissioned the spy rings run by ACPO’s organisations must be held to account. If they have broken the law, they must be put on trial. Only then will we have some chance of believing that the law applies to everyone, and is not the exclusive property of corporations and secretive chief constables.”

If governments continue to play down the seriousness of the issue of climate change there will almost certainly be an increase in acts of civil disobedience as protesters challenge the corporations who carry on with damaging activities and the apathetic governments who permit them. Those who deliberately break the law in such circumstances expect to face the legal consequences. Their defence is likely to be on grounds of defending the welfare of those, some in future generations, who suffer the consequences of climate change. Such defence deserves to be given a full and fair hearing before judgement is declared. A democratic society requires no less and it should be no part of the state prosecution to hinder it even though arguing against it.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

bill April 20, 2011 at 9:11 pm

The antics of these puffed-up would-be super-spies and agent provocateurs is like something out of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, but with a Keystone Cops element, too (though since they’re English we’ll make that ‘Carry On Coppers’!)

The current furor over the routine ‘kettling’ of protestors reminds us of the seriousness of what’s going on inside the British police, though, and Monbiot is right to want their management called to account.

Bob Bingham April 21, 2011 at 4:54 pm

It’s only by these extreme acts that public opinion can be changed. It reminds me of segregation in the USA and it was only the people like Martin Luther King who continued to protest, whatever the forces of law and order and the establishment did, that the changes came about.
The protesters have right on there side and a lot of decent people supporting them. Against them are the people who are making money out of supplying dirty power.
The changes will be made but will it be in time?

Kiwiiano April 22, 2011 at 5:11 pm

It raises the suggestion that any meetings to be held discussing climate action should be recorded for ‘posterity’. When even cellphones can record many hours of audio, there are no technical obstructions.

John D April 23, 2011 at 8:03 pm

This is great news.
Perhaps we can find some enthusiasts who can shut down Huntly whilst Jim Hansen is in town. Clearly this decision from the UK has set the stage for further action.

It would be a great opportunity to bring the country’s biggest city to its knees whilst the world’s most famous climate scientist is here.

I expect tickertape parades on Queen St to follow,

Hurrah, Huzzar!!

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