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Climate activist Greta Thunberg acquitted of blocking oil conference in London trial

Thunberg and four others were accused of committing a public order offence by refusing to leave the area hosting an oil and gas conference during their protest. During the trial, the judge ruled that the police acted unlawfully and cited "significant deficiencies" in the evidence.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee London Published on: February 03, 2024 13:05 IST
Greta Thunberg acquitted, London, oil and gas conference, protest
Image Source : AP Climate activist Greta Thunberg, 21, after her acquittal in London.

London: Climate activist Greta Thunberg was acquitted on Monday of a public order offence as a judge ruled that police acted unlawfully and had no power to arrest her and others at a protest in London last year. Thunberg stood trial with four other defendants arrested on October 17 outside a London hotel for reportedly blocking an oil and gas conference.

The Westminster Magistrates' courtroom erupted with applause as Judge John Law told Thunberg and her four co-defendants to stand and told them they were cleared of the criminal charge of breaching the Public Order Act. The judge cited “significant deficiencies in the evidence” presented by the prosecutor.

All five were accused of failing to comply with an order made under the Public Order Act by police to move their protest to a designated area near the conference at the Energy Intelligence Forum. The police could have imposed lesser restrictions on the protest and the conditions that were imposed were not clear.

The judge also said the 21-year-old Thunberg was not "given anything like a reasonable time to comply" after police told her to move. "The government should stop prosecuting peaceful protesters and instead find ways to tackle the climate crisis," said Raj Chada, the lawyer representing Thunberg and two other defendants. 

Thunberg's response

The judge also noted that the demonstration attended by Thunberg, 21, was “peaceful, civilised and non-violent”. Law also granted defence lawyer Chada's request for the government to pay legal fees and Thunberg's travel costs once the bills are submitted. She had faced a fine of up to 2,500 pounds ($3,190) if convicted in Westminster Magistrates' Court of violating the act that allows police to impose limits on public assemblies.

“It is quite striking to me that there were no witness statements taken from anyone in the hotel, approximately 1,000 people, or from anyone trying to get in,” Law said while reading a ruling that had Thunberg and her co-defendants laughing at times. “There was no evidence of any vehicles being impeded, no evidence of any interference with emergency services or any risk to life.”

The October 17 protest was one of many in the UK against fossil fuel producers that have led to criminal charges. Some demonstrations have disrupted sporting events, caused massive traffic jams or created shocking spectacles to draw attention to the climate crisis.

Thunberg and other climate protesters have accused fossil fuel companies of deliberately slowing the global energy transition to renewables to make more profit. They also oppose the UK government's recent approval of drilling for oil in the North Sea, off the coast of Scotland.

After the verdict, Thunberg left the court without speaking to journalists, sprinting down the sidewalk with her friends. “We must remember who the real enemy is. What are we defending? Who are our laws meant to protect?," she said in a short statement after the first day of trial on Thursday. 

What did the police say?

Metropolitan Police Superintendent Matthew Cox said that he had worked with protesters for about five hours before he issued an order for demonstrators to move to an adjacent street, because he was concerned about the safety of those in the hotel. “It seemed like a very deliberate attempt ... to prevent access to the hotel for most delegates and the guests,” Cox testified. “People were really restricted from having access to the hotel.”

Thunberg was outside the front entrance of the hotel when she was given a final warning that she would be arrested if she didn't comply, prosecutor Luke Staton said. She said she intended to stay where she was.

After the verdict was announced, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police said: "While we absolutely respect the right to protest, we often hear from Londoners who are fed up with repeated serious disruption at the hands of campaigners who block roads and prevent people going about their normal business. 

Meanwhile, prosecutors are likely to seek an adjournment of a similar trial starting next week and can bring an appeal at the High Court against Friday's decision.

Thunberg rose to prominence after staging weekly protests outside the Swedish Parliament starting in 2018. Last summer, she was fined by a Swedish court for disobeying police and blocking traffic during an environmental protest at an oil facility. She had already been fined for the same offence previously in Sweden. 

(with inputs from agencies)

ALSO READ | Climate activist Greta Thunberg goes on trial in UK for blocking oil and gas conference

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