Extinction Rebellion: charges against five protesters dismissed

Judge says ‘abject failure’ by CPS left case lacking key prosecution witness as police officer goes on holiday

All charges against five Extinction Rebellion protesters have been dismissed at City of London magistrates court.

The deputy district judge, Vincent McDade, said there had been an “abject failure” by the Crown Prosecution Service. A police officer who had been due to be a prosecution witness was not given enough notice about the date of the trial and had booked a holiday.

Before the hearing on Tuesday, the former government chief scientist Sir David King had backed Extinction Rebellion over the climate emergency. “What we are talking about is the most important issue humanity has ever had to face up to,” he said, speaking outside the court. “And when I say humanity I mean all of us. We’re all in this boat together.”

“No government, including ours, is doing enough today,” King said. “So what we need is much more action and we need it with a public voice. That’s what Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion have done. They’ve put it back on the front pages.”

King had written a witness statement that could have been admitted as evidence in the case. In it, he said: “It is hard to see how the global temperature rise is to be limited, on average, to 1.5C in the very narrow timeframe still available unless it becomes a matter of real urgency within the spheres of national and global politics.”

In November, charges against more than 100 Extinction Rebellion protesters were dropped after the ban forbidding protest in London in October was ruled unlawful, though other cases continued. About 1,800 protesters were arrested and detained between 14 and 19 October.

The five people had faced trial for alleged aggravated trespass following a protest at London City airport in October. The five are Claudia Fisher, 57, from Brighton, Phoebe Valentine, 23, from Brighton, David Lambert, 60, from Gloucestershire, Senan Clifford, 59, also from Gloucestershire, and John Burrage, 42, from west Wales.

McDade said the police officer who carried out the arrests was a “vital witness to establish the lawfulness or otherwise of the arrests”.

“Had the CPS acted efficiently and warned the witness as soon as possible after the case management hearing on November 7 this matter would proceed today with that witness giving live evidence,” McDade said. He said he had “no option but to dismiss all matters against the defendants”.

Before the charges were dismissed, Fisher said she had been motivated to participate in Extinction Rebellion protests out of fear for the future of her children. “The government response to the climate crisis is wholly inadequate, so much so that it is criminal,” she said. “My children, especially my youngest, will have a very difficult life which will be full of conflict, worry and distress. I do not believe he will have a fulfilling life as a result.”

Valentine, a mathematics student at the University of Sussex, said: “The terrifying immediacy of our situation is hard to grasp but needs to be communicated, which is why I take action with Extinction Rebellion. I didn’t want to be arrested, it wasn’t fun, I would have much rather have been at home. But the devastation of our planet isn’t going to wait for me or any of us.”

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