Breaking news: Kingsnorth Six found not guilty!

Posted by bex - 10 September 2008 at 3:29pm - Comments
The Greenpeace activists who closed down Kingsnorth coal-fired power station
All rights reserved. Credit: Will Rose / Greenpeace
The Greenpeace activists who closed down Kingsnorth coal-fired power station

See all trial updates.


It's been a pretty unusual ten days but today has been truly extraordinary. At 3.20pm, 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 defendants 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.

(This is the first case, by the way, where preventing property damage from climate change has been used as part of a 'lawful excuse' defence in Crown Court.)

During the trial, the world's leading climate scientist came to court and challenged the government's plans for new coal, calling for Gordon Brown to announce a moratorium on all new coal-fired power plants without carbon capture and storage. 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 coal, why we don't need it to keep the lights on and why the government should be pursuing efficiency, renewables and combined heat and power instead.

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.

Finally, we've turned commenting back on, so feel free to leave your thoughts below (although I might take a wee while to answer them; I suspect some celebrations with the defendants are afoot)...


Video: why new coal power stations in the UK would be a disaster for the climate

What fantastic, historic news. Well done the six, the legal team and Greenpeace.

what brilliant news, well done to all those involved!

Who foots the bill?

As usual the long suffering users. I'd like to say a big 'thank you'to greenpeace from my 82 year old grand mother and my 60 year old mother by really helping them along in these difficult financial times. I'm sure a lot of people will be feeling the same when they find out what you'e now gotten away with.

Oh well done to all those who wanted the UK government to push nuclear power forward now. This verdict was exactly what the government was looking for, and you all walked into it with your eyes shut as usual. Oh very well done boys and girls. They'll be getting the plans out tonight - nuclear power stations all around the coast then! Jeez! When are you people going to learn. Oh, and more news today that the world is cooling, by the way.

So, does this give me the right to grafitti all over the Greenpeace ship which also adds "climate damaging" gases to the atmosphere?

Protest, campaign, but don't cause criminal damage.

Great stuff :) Really heartening decision!

Gandalf - if you want to make heat cheap get involved and lobby for CHP so that we stop bunging approx 800MW into the Thames instead of your families homes. Check my sums - its about £20,000 an hour going to waste instead of keeping old folk warm. And that's at Ebico's not for profit price.

Steve - you'll have Gandalf after you! We've already got a £70bn cleanup bill for nuclear - I make that a £1000 per man woman and child in the UK? Or is it France?

Nozza - don't think it'd swing in court - have you been campaigning long and hard on this one? Can you line up a panel of world class witnesses to support you? Think you could be in danger of being on the wrong side of the law there.

Economist out walking with his daughter -

"ten pounds is in the road daddy can I pick it up?"

"don't be silly - if it was real someone would have picked it up already"

(unattrib)

No it don't, Nozza. [Some text deleted by Greenpeace - please see our house rules]

Using the courts to fight the government is an inspired strategy and has spurned this lapsed member to offer renewed support - keep up this tack!

If smashing up someone else's property is the thin end of the wedge, what's the thick end? Ah, the thick end will be Greenpeace members then. The politics of anarchy.

Kind of lengthy, but I think it should be the new tag line for Greenpeace...
'I don't agree with what you're doing - even though it's completely lawful. I have a belief which I think is above yours - even though I have no evidence. I am going to break the law - even though it will have a perverse end.'

If you have a belief, you gather all the evidence to support it and present it to the people. YOUR alternative is, you have a belief, you don't have the evidence, so you smash something in exasperation. You people just do not 'get it' do you?

just wanted to pass on a huge congratulations to the kingsnorth six, and thanks to you, bex, for keeping us up to date all the way through. today is a great day. and if only the whole world could hear the evidence from the court room. there'd be little delay on climate action if they did.

now after two long weeks go and get some sleep :-)

I take my hat off to the Kingsnorth protestors. Thank you for standing up for what you believe to be right. Thanks also to the legal team, and to the blogger who has kept us all so well informed throughout the trial.

On a more sombre note - it seems to me that, in the current economic situation, an idea is gaining ground that being 'green' is a luxury only the well-off can afford. Have others noticed this? Do you think it is a cause for concern?

Steve mate - suggest you check the definition of "aquittal"?

An act was committed, arrests were made, a trial took place and a jury returned a verdict of not guilty. Not much anarchy in evidence there. Seems more like a properly functioning judicial procedure - seems like a good thing for democracy to me.

Think you are a bit more in the "don't like the result, ignore the evidence, throw a fit" camp than you care to recognise.

Congratulations to all. This is great news. Thank you Bex for keeping us updated through the trial :)

well done. it's not the guardian, but I blogged about this this morning: greenpeace success

I met Ben six/seven years ago while I was editor at OneWorld.net, and was struck by his commitment to activism, and this news is clearly vindication for all your efforts.

Many congratulations to all the defendants in the Kingsnorth trial, and the legal team--I got to sit in the public gallery a couple of times and I'm reassured that British justice is alive and well. To paraphrase something said about McLibel a long time ago, it was the best free entertainment in Maidstone!
Re various comments that seem to suggest this offers carte blanche to anyone to vandalise anything they disapprove of: I'm not a lawyer, but isn't it the case that no precedent is set in trials in the Crown court? That is, yesterday's decision by the jury doesn't bind future juries in similar cases in any way. So the basic assumption is still that you can't go round damaging other people's stuff.
We should all be very heartened by this: an ordinary jury has given a great big thumbs down to the way government and corporations pursue business as usual while claiming to be committed to change. This decision might wake the government up!

That is fantastic news!

We all owe a great debt to the Kingsnorth six, please do pass that on to them. The implications from that ruling will cause, not just ripples, but great waves.

It is the self centredness of comments like these that cause the global problems. 'My little old granny's coal fire isn't going to cause global warming' just means that you have absolutely no comprehension of the issues.

A bit rich, Shearwater. Little Old Granny's a damn inconvenience for the self-centred and self-righteous like you and the other Greenpeace bully-boy thugs. It'd be far preferable for you if granny was dead, along with all the other inconvenient human beings who get in the way of your fanaticism.

Just a quick one to say thanks for the all comments and messages of support (and richarduk - we'll definitely be sleeping well tonight)! I'll answer a few of the criticisms separately.

Cheers,

Bex
gpuk

PS The Guardian's running a poll: is climate change a valid defence?

You wrote:
If you have a belief, you gather all the evidence to support it and present it to the people.

We did exactly that - after hearing the evidence from Jim Hansen, Zac Goldsmith, Geoff Meaden and the defendants, the jury (representatives of the people) considered it and concluded that what we did wasn't illegal - because we were acting to protect property of greater value in immediate need of protection.

You also wrote:
YOUR alternative is, you have a belief, you don't have the evidence, so you smash something in exasperation. You people just do not 'get it' do you?

Um, what did we smash? As the judge said, we're not mindless vandals. We painted a chimney, which apparently cost £30,000 to clean up. As the jury heard, the social costs of the emissions from Kingsnorth power station is around £1 million pounds a day (calculated using Lord Stern's estimate that the emissions of one tonne of carbon will incur around £50 in social costs).

On your other point on nuclear power, have a read of this (a report by leading energy consultants) to see why we can keep the lights on without new coal or new nuclear - in fact just by the government meeting its existing renewables and efficiency targets.

Cheers,

Bex
gpuk

Thanks for coming along - and good to meet you (if it was you I met :)

Yep, you're right about it not setting a legal precedent. And as the jurors were told, it was their job to return verdicts on these defendants - and leave future cases to future jurors.

Cheers,

Bex
gpuk

Hey Gandalf

You might want to read Zac Goldsmith's evidence, where he told the jury that power companies have received an enormous windfall of £billions - one widely accepted report said that E.ON alone got £466 million from 'permits to pollute'.

He told the court that Ofgem had effectively said that the system had led to consumers paying companies for polluting more. Steve Smith of Ofgem: "In essence rather than the polluter paying, the polluter is actually getting paid. It is a straight transfer [of cash] from customers to generators' shareholders."

And then have a look at an E.on director's reaction to high energy costs for consumers.

Or Ben's evidence that the Stern Report puts the social costs of each tonne of CO2 at around £50. Kingsnorth emits around 20,000 tonnes of CO2 a day - which adds up to around £1 million in social costs every day from Kingsnorth.

Cheers,

Bex
gpuk

Bex, can we please have those promised witness statements? I'm itching to pick holes in them!

For starters, you paraphrased Dr Meaden as saying that there could be no summer ice left in the Arctic within five years. It would be very interesting to know which words Dr Meaden actually used (and whether Dr Hansen echoed or endorsed them).

I'd also like to know where you get your notion that if carbon has a social cost of £50 per tonne and the Kingsnorth plant would pump out 20,000 tonnes of CO2 per day then the Kingsnorth plant would have a social cost of £1 million per day. From Meaden? Goldsmith? Morgan? My money's on Goldsmith.

And I'd also like to know how Dr Meaden's "expertness" was established - and, perhaps more cogently, his impartiality. He is, after all, the Green Party's candidate for a local parliamentary constituency. (And how about Meaden the eco-warrior and cold-water fish-expert phoning in his evidence from a freebie conference in far-off tropical Brazil? Did his hypocrisy elicit titters in court?)

And Dr Hansen - did he really say that the Kingsnorth plant will result in 400 extinctions? What else did he say? In particular, what were his estimates of sea-level rise on the Kent coast and what did he say (or not say) about the attribution of such rises?

And no doubt much more besides.

Be a sport, old sport, and post the promised witness statements.

Not Zac Goldsmith after all! Or indeed all along.

If only I had re-read the last few lines of your last comment before I posted mine ... Clearly, it was Ben Stewart, Greenpeace UK's communications director and erstwhile Guardian Young Journalist of the Year, who said that 20,000 tonnes of CO2 per day @ £50 per tonne of carbon give £1 million pounds per day of econaughtiness.

Sorry, Zac, Geoff and ... Jennifer.

did anyone try to estimate the 'social cost' of shutting down the coal fired gas fired and nuclear reactors that greenpeace eschew and that we currently rely on to provide our cosy comfort most of the year in this country?. burning gas maybe crazy but we have hundreds of years of coal reserves and roll on nuclear power. with luck research and investment we may reach fusion power. but just our luck i expect those econaughty plates under the usa will choose just such an occasion to blow a fuse and render our co2 emission statistics irrelevant. meanwhile ofcourse there is a whole new alice in wonderland industry making its living trading carbon credits. you have to laugh. fashion, eh

Bex. Actually, my comments were aimed at a post above mine - check back.

Re nuclear power. This is what I meant by 'you just don't get it'. You people have SO much to learn about politics, it's breathtaking. The government so much want the power companies and investors to build nuclear power stations - why do you think they don't want to impose a windfall tax on them? The government actually want to keep these people sweet and let them have the capital to invest the vast costs needed. They actually want you to protest against coal stations! Then they'll say, 'Well the only alternative left to us is nuclear then'. I haven't the time to go into this any deeper here. What all you Greens have done is to walk blindly into a climate trap. I'm not saying they engineered it, of course, but people are actually employed to work deviously on policy issues and manipulate and plan. They are rubbing their hands now. We're living dangerously right now o power generation. If we're in for global cooling, there will be a rush to build power stations to cope with demand. Where will you be then? Think about it. Trouble is, you people don't think at all.

And Bex, linking to a page on this site about turbines is facile. Wind power is great, but without subsidy they are too expensive given the fact that they are not constant and don't generate enough electricity. We need to be free of dependency on oil and gas (especially Russian gas!). We have deposits of our own coal and can clean the emissions. Nuclear isn't wanted by the public, but it's what we'll get now - thanks to you lot.

Kingsnorth 1, Climate change 1. Government and greedy polluting energy providers big fat 0.

I must admit I was surprised that Greenpeace activists had done 30 000 worth of damage but look what they achieved.

I upped my involvement with Greenpeace so that i could be part of the solution too.

I applaud you.
Jenna

And for all those who criticise greenpeace activism, for goodness sake look at the facts, figures and the bigger picture. Look at what you can do to stop millions of people around the world losing their homes and species becoming extinct.

That would be me then - a critic. 'Look at the figures' is exactly what we climate sceptics have been trying to get you all to do! Movies riddled with errors (by a politician with no science background at all) isn't figures. Scare stories of ridiculous proportions isn't figures. Look at past temperature. Look at it now. Look at the temperature of the lower troposphere. What do all these tell you? Ask yourself why the temperature now isn't anywhere near where it was predicted to be 20 years ago. "People losing their homes"? Where? Species becoming extinct? Name one...just one. You can't of course, and frankly it was a silly statement to make.

Well Done and Congratulations....there is hope for us afterall. If UK can see the sense in this action, perhaps a new day is dawning...?

They're now up in full.

Bex
gpuk

Hey Steve

I'm definitely not going to argue with you that the government wants nuclear but I'm not sure I follow your logic. That we should stop campaigning on coal and just stick to our nuclear campaign?

The point is that our energy system is a shambles - criminally wasteful and inefficient (the typical conventional power plant in the UK is only around 38 per cent efficient) - and both the new nuclear and new coal plants the government wants would lock us into this system.

Combined heat and power plants in a decentralised energy system on the other hand can reach efficiencies of up to 95%. And they deal with heating, which is the UK's biggest source of emissions (ahead of electricity and transport) - and which our conventional plants do almost nothing to address.

Which is why we're campaigning for a decentralised energy system based on renewables, efficiency and combined heat and power. (I think the link you referred to was about decentralised energy, not wind power specifically by the way - but this one may be clearer.)

Cheers,

Bex
gpuk

Thanks for the witness statements, Bex. I've only skimmed them so far but already it's clear that you accurately represented Dr Meaden's views on how soon the Arctic will be ice-free. In his 2nd PDF he mentions "predictions made by the American Geophysical Union ... that by 2013 all Arctic ice will melt during the summer". As he doesn't mention any other predictions, it's fair to assume that he believes this one. That's unfortunate, and it damages his credibility. The 2013 prediction has received little or no support from mainstream climatologists. As far as I can tell, not even the habitually alarmist Dr Hansen has endorsed it publicly. (For the record, the prediction wasn't made by the AGU - it was made at the AGU, during a presentation by Dr Wieslaw Maslowski of the US Navy.)

And it gets worse for Dr Meaden. In his other PDF, he claims that "[f]or the first time ever it is likely that within five years there will be no ice at all over the North Pole during the summer." First time ever? This is nonsense. It's not at all unusual for leads to open in the ice at the North Pole. Didn't he read about that swimmer last year? And what about that famous photo of three surfaced submarines at the North Pole in 1987?

There is some good news, though. Neither Dr Meaden nor any of the other experts confuses tonnes of carbon with tonnes of carbon dioxide, as you and your communications director did.

What all the Greens fail to understand about the Arctic is that it has receded many times before - it's just that we haven't been there to see it! In 1922 the ice receded just as much as now, maybe even more. It's a natural event. It will recover very soon. That idiot who thought he was going to "kayak to the North Pole" just simply showed the ignorance that exists among climate campaigners. There's a website I read yesterday http://www.kadir-buxton.com/page2.htm It's so ignorant that I wondered if it was a joke. It starts off, "The paradise islands of Tuvalu are on the brink of being swamped by the sea due to the Ice Caps melting." First of all Tuvalu isn't being swamped by sea at all, and secondly the "Ice Caps" aren't melting! Ice at the North Pole is floating ice - it therefore wouldn't add ANY water to the oceans if it all melted. Secondly, the Antarctic has been cooling for 35 years (it's the fly in the climate ointment) and has recently seen a record growth in ice area. This ignorance continues on the site, "if both polar ice caps are allowed to totally collapse over the next 200 to 300 years". Amazing. And yes, he/she is a Greenpeace member apparently. Well, wouldn't you know it? Ignorance is bliss.

...can we expect the Kingsnorth Six and their mates to take their heroic campaign to China, where two coal-fired power stations are being opened every week?

Or is Greenpeace only willing to take such a stance in a soft-touch country like Britain?

Hi Mike

As you imply, China obviously needs to be part of the energy solution to climate change. Which is why Greenpeace China is campaigning on coal:

Greenpeace’s coal campaign aims at reducing China’s dependency (70% of primary energy use) on coal. We continue to push for renewable energy policies in the hopes of exploiting China’s vast renewable energy resources.

But it's also vital that the UK sorts out its own energy policy. How can the UK hope to help convince China to turn away from coal if we're planning to keep using it here?

Per person, the UK bears more responsibility for historical CO2 emissions in the atmosphere than anyone else (followed by the US, then Germany). As Jim Hansen said, "[t]his fact is recognized by developing countries, making it implausible that they would consider altering their plans for coal use if the UK plans to continue to rely on coal-fired power."

Cheers,

Bex
gpuk

Hi Vinny

My fault, sorry. I reported it correctly in the original blog and in most comments, but I accidentally left out the word 'dioxide' in one of my comments. To clarify: the Stern Review put the social costs of carbon dioxide at around £50 per tonne.

Meaning that the point I was making is still true: if the social cost of carbon dioxide is around £50, and if Kingsnorth emits 20,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a day, then the social costs of emissions from Kingsnorth are around £1 million a day.

Cheers,

Bex
gpuk

Bex, thanks for the clarification/correction. £1 million it is - if, that is, you believe Stern the discredited mumble mumble mumble ...

Yeah, OK. You're winning, aren't you?

Never mind. Fashion is always the first casualty of a recession.

I just wanted to say well done to the team and to my Dad for his witness statement. He works so hard and so passionately to preserve our planet. I just think it is a shame that there are a few of you who look forward to picking holes in what people say, when they spend so much time researching and campaigning to preserve the planet you live in.

Thank you to everyones hard work

Anna Meaden

Emma, passion and hard work are no excuse for getting things wrong.

And witness statements exist to be picked apart. That’s what they’re for.

And Green activists like your father are not campaigning to preserve the planet I live on. On my planet, not even high-minded vandals are above the law.

And of course Green activists aren’t campaigning to “preserve the planet” at all. The planet doesn’t care whether we burn coal or babies or nothing at all in our power stations. Such language is just self-congratulatory bombast. What Greens campaign for is the adoption (and often imposition) of particular solutions to particular problems faced by human societies. If the Greens are concerned with preserving anything, it’s their privileged access to the moral high ground.

Thanks for commenting Anna - and a huge thanks to your dad too.

Bex
gpuk

Now that the power station has been sorted at kingsnorth there is still the matter of the liberty ship wreck ss richard montgomery nearby and its deadly cargo. when it explodes it will make the Environmental problem of the power station look minute in comparison. see http://www.ssrichardmontgomery.com for the full story. (copy and paste url into your browser)

vinny

im honestly shocked at your stance on this issue. Just what exactly are YOU campaigning for? the increase in the size of the ozone layer? do you just log in and tear apart any action that these people take and advise them on the action that you aren't taking and claim that they do it for moral high ground i'm sure they'd all much rather not risk their lives 400 feet into the air.

greenpeace, thank you for making every effort possible to put right the damage that we, although sometimes unwittingly, do to the fragile planet we live on.

the planet is not ours to take chances on. we should not be arguing over which damage may happen but preventing obvious unnecessary damage occurring now to the atmosphere that wouldn't be done if humans weren't such negligent consumers.

Reading through all this for an essay I'm writing on Greenpeace, I found this little gem posted by Steve Berry:

"Ice at the North Pole is floating ice - it therefore wouldn't add ANY water to the oceans if it all melted."

When ice melts to water, it actually expands. Basic chemistry when it comes to water. The volume of an ice cube once it has melted to water is greater than it was when it was an ice cube, water literally takes up more space than ice. Look it up. Science is cool stuff.

So when the Ice Caps melt (and they are melting), the ocean levels DO/WILL rise and places like Tuvalu will cease to exist. Lowlands in England, the harbor of New York City, almost the entire city of Istanbul, +70% of the delta region in Egypt and Vietnam are ALL AT RISK. These places will be covered in water and food production, like the production that occurs in those deltas, will be severely crippled in many regions of the world.

Clearly, Ignorance IS bliss. When ice melts, it expands. The so-called 'science' of the denialists continues to floor me.

Oh ! well this is quite surprising news . i did not expect this .

Hey, just wanted to leave a note and congratulate you all since looks like you are the only people acting, and every time getting more and more results, I bet this varedict will help you fight and win faster legal battles in the future, which means more and faster action against ecology problems caused by humans/corporations.

Thanks to all of you!

R.C.

Totally agree,

Congratulations kingsnorth six! keep your hard work and so will us.

nezahualcoyotl

"self-centred and self-righteous". Your comment certainly fits these criteria, sebastian. Where do you find the gall to tell someone that they would prefer it if their granny was dead? Apart from anything else it's a breathtakingly stupid and offensive thing to say - and actually says far more about you than the people you purport to criticise. Crawl back under your stone, please.

It's really inspiring to see that there are people like you who take action and help the world in such a way.

Sometimes i feel a little dirty you know...

I never worry about life the way you do...

Anyway, thanks!

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