Ratcliffe coal protesters invited to appeal conviction

By Bryan Walker 20/04/2011

The defence of the Ratcliffe coal power plant protesters in the UK, charged with conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass, was that they were acting through ’necessity’ to prevent death and serious injury caused by carbon dioxide emissions and climate change. James Hansen was among the defence witnesses, testifying to the reality of the danger from climate change. The prosecution argued that the defendants were not really intending to stop carbon emissions, but instead engaged in a publicity stunt. I wrote in this post in January of the lenient sentencing from a judge who was clearly impressed by the motivation of these ’decent men and women with a genuine concern for others’. They were found guilty and had to be punished, albeit leniently.

Their conviction now appears likely to be overturned. The Director of Public Prosecutions, no less, has urged them to appeal their convictions after allegations that police suppressed potentially crucial evidence from an undercover police officer. “I have invited the defence to lodge an appeal and to include the issue of non-disclosure of material relating to the activities of an undercover police officer in any grounds of appeal.”

The story of the undercover officer has been extensively canvassed in the pages of The Guardian in recent months and I won’t try to disentangle it here, but it seems possible that tapes he secretly made of the protesters’ discussions may have helped their defence. The protesters are reported as wanting copies of those tapes and other reports of the undercover operations to help their appeal, and The Guardian comments that this is a move the CPS would now find it hard to resist.

The affair is a reminder of how strong are the forces lined up against climate change action. The law firm which represented the protesters observes:

“The impression remains that the establishment have sought to undermine those campaigning against the urgent and extreme perils of climate change and, once discovered, grudgingly are conceding only as much as they have to when they have to. It has taken two years to get this far and this has only come about as a result of the persistence of climate campaigners.”

George Monbiot is more direct in his trenchant comments yesterday on the issue. He points to the role of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) in overseeing the National Public Order Intelligence Unit which ran the undercover operation. In effect, he says, they were running a private militia, and doing so in the interests of corporate power.

’…police chiefs in this country are out of control. They appear to see their role as protecting corporate power against the people, regardless of what the law says. To this end they are spending both public money and private money extracted from public hands, without obvious lines of accountability or constitutional authority.

’They are behaving as you would have expected the Guardia Civil under Francisco Franco to behave: working for private interests against the public interest.’

He wants them investigated:

’The police chiefs who commissioned the spy rings run by ACPO’s organisations must be held to account. If they have broken the law, they must be put on trial. Only then will we have some chance of believing that the law applies to everyone, and is not the exclusive property of corporations and secretive chief constables.’

If governments continue to play down the seriousness of the issue of climate change there will almost certainly be an increase in acts of civil disobedience as protesters challenge the corporations who carry on with damaging activities and the apathetic governments who permit them. Those who deliberately break the law in such circumstances expect to face the legal consequences. Their defence is likely to be on grounds of defending the welfare of those, some in future generations, who suffer the consequences of climate change. Such defence deserves to be given a full and fair hearing before judgement is declared. A democratic society requires no less and it should be no part of the state prosecution to hinder it even though arguing against it.