Greenpeace news: Kingsnorth Six found Not Guilty!

September 10, 2008 at 10:48 am | Posted in Climate change, Environment, Global warming | Leave a comment
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Brief background: environmentalists aka climate change activists decided to target Kingsnorth because its owner, E.ON UK, part of the German energy group E.ON, wants to build a new coal plant there.  This would be the first new coal-fired power station in the UK for almost 30 years. If Kingsnorth were given a green light, six more coal plants could follow.  This development would make it extremely difficult for Britain to meet its carbon emissions targets (and we’ll have enough trouble achieving goals as it is, without adding more challenges).

In October 2007, six Greenpeace volunteers took a stand to protect the environment and climbed to the top of the smokestack at Kingsnorth coal-fired power station in Kent.

The Kingsnorth Six (Ben Stewart, Emily Hall, Huw Williams, Kevin Drake, Tim Hewke and Will Rose) were prosecuted for criminal damage.  During the past two weeks, they have appeared at Maidstone Crown Court in a trial that relates to energy and climate change policies, involving Kingsnorth power station, and Britain’s coal and emissions strategies.

Now, hot-off-the-press, here’s an email update from Bex Sumner of Greenpeace at the conclusion of the Kingsnorth trial, with a few colourful additions to help my regular audience ;-)

Kingsnorth Six found Not Guilty!

It’s been a pretty unusual ten days but today has been truly extraordinary. At 3.30pm this afternoon the jury came back into court and announced a majority verdict of not guilty! All six defendants – Kevin, Emily, Tim, Will, Ben and Huw – were acquitted of criminal damage.

To recap on how important this verdict is: the campaigners were accused of causing £30,000 of criminal damage to Kingsnorth smokestack from painting. The defence was that they had ‘lawful excuse‘ – because they were acting to protect property around the world “in immediate need of protection” from the impacts of climate change, caused in part by burning coal.

So the evidence for the defence centred around the enormous damage burning coal does to ecosystems, people and property around the planet – and the UK government’s abject failure to take any meaningful action.

During the trial, James Hansen, the world’s leading climate scientist, came to court and challenged Her Majesty’s Government’s plans for new coal, calling for Prime Minister Gordon Brown to announce a moratorium on all new coal-fired power plants without carbon capture and storage (CCS). Opposition Leader David Cameron’s environmental policy adviser said there was “a staggering mismatch between what we’ve heard from government and what we’ve seen from government in terms of policy”. An expert on climate change impacts in the UK said some of the property in immediate need of protection from sea level rises included parts of Kent (Kingsnorth being “extremely vulnerable”) and that “it behoves us to act with urgency”. And an Inuit leader told of his first hand experiences of the impacts of climate change.

After hearing all of the evidence, the jurors (representatives of ordinary British people) supported the right to take direct action to protect the climate from the burning of coal.

So where does this leave the government’s energy policy? Seen in the light of the verdict, their plans to build a new coal plant at Kingsnorth (which could emit as much as the world’s 30 least polluting countries combined every year for 40 or 50 years) show not only their abject failure to act on climate change, but also that their policies are actively leading us in the wrong (and very dangerous) direction. Ministers now find themselves in a very tight corner.

Once I’m back in the office, I’ll publish the witness statements from Jim Hansen, Dr Geoff Meaden, Zac Goldsmith, Jennifer Morgan and Aqqaluk Lynge in full (they’re well worth reading). And keep an eye out for our next podcast, where we’ll be talking to the defendants and to Jim Hansen about coal, climate change and the trial.

In the meantime, you can find out more about the Greenpeace case against coal-fired power generation, why we don’t need it to keep the lights on (see Pöyry Energy Consulting report for WWF-UK and Greenpeace UK, August 2008), and why the Government should be pursuing efficiency, renewables and combines heat and power (CHP) instead (see the Greenpeace EfficienCity).

But for now, with a huge thanks to the brilliant defence legal team – Michael Wolkind QC, barrister Quincy Whitaker, and Mike Schwarz and Catherine Jackson of Bindmans Solicitors – it’s over and out from the Kingsnorth trial.

To everyone receiving this by email, thank you for signing up for the updates, and for your messages of support. If you’d like to hear from us regularly, you can sign up to get fortnightly(ish) updates about our campaigns and nonviolent direct actions from us here.

Thanks very much for your support,

Bex Sumner
Greenpeace UK
10 September 2008

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