THE GUARDIAN 🔵 Just Stop Oil activists found guilty of conspiring to block M25 traffic – Shango Media
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THE GUARDIAN 🔵 Just Stop Oil activists found guilty of conspiring to block M25 traffic

Five environmental activists are facing long sentences after they were found guilty of conspiring to block traffic on the M25, after a trial in which the defendants were arrested various times for defying the court.

Roger Hallam, Daniel Shaw, Louise Lancaster, Lucia Whittaker De Abreu and Cressida Gethin were charged with conspiracy to cause a public nuisance for organising direct action protests that caused gridlock on London’s orbital motorway in November 2022.

The court heard that each defendant had appeared on a Zoom call to recruit activists to take part in the protests, under the banner of the Just Stop Oil campaign, which involved climbing the gantries over the motorway on which signs hang.

According to the prosecution, over four days the campaign caused disruption leading to a “notional economic loss” of almost £750,000, in addition to a cost of almost £1m to the police.

At times, the two-and-a-half-week trial descended into chaos, with defendants arrested for contempt and dragged by police and custody officers into the dock and down to the cells when they refused to leave the witness box or spoke out of turn, claiming they were not being given the opportunity to present their full case.

On the second day of defence evidence, 11 people were arrested for alleged contempt after they protested outside Southwark crown court with signs saying: “Jurors have the right to hear the whole truth.” Protesters nevertheless returned day after day, until on the final day more than 80 sat outside the court with placards.

Of the defendants, only Hallam sought to cast doubt on his role in the plan, telling the court he had merely been asked to speak on the call. “I wish to say on oath I was not part of this campaign,” he told jurors.

But he joined the others in a second prong of defence, in which each sought to argue that their alleged actions were justified to raise the alarm over the culpability of government and big business for accelerating climate breakdown.

Each defendant claimed they were not granted a fair trial after the judge, Christopher Hehir, ruled that evidence about the climate change could play no part in their defence. Although each was allowed to give their “political and philosophical beliefs” about the climate crisis.

“The views of any defendant – however sincerely held, and whether or not you agree with them – about manmade climate change, and what should or should not be done about it, are entirely irrelevant to the question of whether or not each is guilty or not guilty,” Hehir told jurors, and he prevented defendants from presenting to the court a 250-page bundle of evidence relating to the climate crisis.

The defendants were able to get the prosecution to agree to a list of “facts not in dispute” relating to the climate crisis, including that climate change represented an “existential threat to humanity”, that warming about 1.5C “risks catastrophic and irreversible consequences”, that in the previous 12 months the global temperature had averaged 1.63C above preindustrial temperatures, and that in November 2022 the UK government had opened a new round of licensing for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea.

In his closing speech to jurors, made from the dock, Hallam said: “There is good grounds as to quote a phrase from the prosecution because it is blindingly obvious to us here first that you have not been given all the evidence you need, [and] you have not been given the arguments on why you should hear the evidence.

“You cannot be sure of our guilt if you are not sure that you have not been given the evidence. That’s why I’m behind this screen, because I took my oath before God to tell you the truth, and we have received no good reason why we are not allowed to tell you what is blindingly obvious, namely what I’m not allowed to speak about.

“If you are not allowed to hear the blindingly obvious then it’s not a fair trial is it?”

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