It’s not often that the world’s leading climate scientist, Professor James Hansen, turns up and gives evidence in your defence.

But Hansen’s appearance at a court in Maidstone in the South East of England is being credited as one of the reasons why a jury decided yesterday that the threat of climate change justifies breaking the law.

Six Greenpeace activists had been charged with $70,000 worth of criminal damage after painting the side of the controversial Kingsnorth coal-fired powered station.

In a message to UK prime minister, the activists intended to paint “Gordon, Bin It” down the side but only got as far as “Gordon” before being injuncted.  But, in a verdict that has widespread implications in the UK at least, jurors accepted the defence argument that the six had a “lawful excuse” to cause criminal damage to prevent even greater damage caused by climate change.

During the eight-day trial, Hansen appealed to the Gordon Brown to “take a leadership role” in cancelling the plan for Kingsnorth and scrapping the idea of a coal-fired future for Britain.  He also called on a moratorium for all coal-fired power stations.

Hansen told the court that more than a million species would be made extinct because of climate change and calculated that Kingsnorth would proportionally be responsible for 400 of these. “We are in grave peril,” he told the jury.

Speaking outside court after being cleared yesterday, one of the Greenpeace protesters, Ben Stewart said: “This verdict marks a tipping point for the climate change movement. When a jury of normal people say it is legitimate for a direct action group to shut down a coal-fired power station because of the harm it does to our planet, then where does that leave Government energy policy? We have the clean technologies at hand to power our economy. It’s time we turned to them instead of coal.”

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