A jury in the north of England will decide today whether 22 climate change activists who boarded a coal train heading to the notorious Drax power station are innocent or guilty.
The accused had stopped a train carrying 42,000 tonnes of coal in June last year on its way to Drax in North Yorkshire, the biggest coal-fired power station in Europe. Coal is seen as the dirtiest fossil fuel there is and the issue of coal burning power stations is rising up the political agenda in Europe and US. To see a video of the original protest go here.
The activists flagged the train down using fake signalmen and then occupied it for 16 hours, arguing that the action was “necessary and proportionate to prevent the crime of carbon emissions” and the deaths that result from them. The defendants had repeatedly tried to make the wider case about the dangers of climate change to the jury.
A related defence of lawful excuse had been previously used successfully by Greenpeace activists who defaced the coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth in Kent in 2007 in what has become an internationally renown case, even having a documentary made about it.
However, the Drax judge refused to accept the argument, repeatedly ruling that the jury should ignore the wider issues surrounding climate change and focus on the narrow legal case of the legality of boarding a coal train. At a previous hearing the judge ruled the “necessity defence” was inadmissible. He had also banned the attendance of a string of expert witnesses from the UN, Nasa, and countries affected by possible consequences of global warming such as the Arctic and New Orleans.
The final statement was given by charity worker Jonathan Stevenson, 26, who finished by telling the jury:
“We all know that times change, and what was acceptable in one era may not be acceptable in another. You have heard of how it was once legal to own other people, how it was illegal for women to vote. Well one way or another we are going to have to stop burning coal and move on from the fossil fuel era. And that means that the law will eventually have to change and acknowledge the harm that carbon emissions do to all of us, by making them illegal. The only question is whether the law will catch up in time for there to be anything left to protect.”
Let’s hope the jury agree with him and the other defendents. Hopefully they have watched the Kingsnorth film, which opens with a quote from Martin Luther King: “A time comes when silence is betrayal”….