The Judge described Ratcliffe power station activists as “honest, sincere, conscientious, intelligent, committed, dedicated, caring”. That they acted with “highest possible motives”.
The story so far ….. At the conclusion of the trial on the 14th December 2010, all 20 defendants were found guilty of Conspiracy to Commit Aggravated Trespass.
They were arrested in April 2009 during the biggest pre-emptive arrest in UK history. The 114 people were detained at Iona School, Sneinton, where they were involved in planning an operation to shut down Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station for a week. The facts were not disputed. Giving evidence, this was clearly there intention and that they were equipped to do it. The defence of necessity was employed in that they were acting to prevent a greater harm; death and serious injury to others as a direct consequence of climate changes bought about by the burning of fossil fuels, most notably coal.
Since being found guilty, His Honour Judge Teare had deferred sentencing until today awaiting reports. Two defendants have been further deferred until the 18 January 2011.
It is reported that this trial and police costs add up to £700,000.
Miss Gerry for the prosecution said that a number of defendants did have previous convictions for offences relating to social and environmental matters. None relating to violent or acquisitive crime. She asked the Judge to award £5,000 costs against each defendant. When asked, the prosecution said that the actual prosecution costs against each defendant were £20,000.
[20x = £400,000 stone me!].
In mitigation, Mr Ed Rees for the defences seeks to make some general points pertaining to all the defendants:
• If the action had in fact been carried out, it would have been peaceful and safe in character.
• There is no suggestion of violence or disorder on any of the defendant part.
• There would have been unlikely to have been any damage.
• The planned event never took place.
• The motivation of those involved being of a caring and concerned character. He sites a Court of Appeal authority for this to be taken into account. Jones & Others R. v  EWCA Crim 2942 (20 September 2006)
Mr Rees went on that all the defendants practice what they preach. All had engaged in the democratic and political process and not just in direct action and that this should further mitigate any sentencing. All the defendants have so many character and glowing personal testimonials by professions and peers and had many social concerns.
As to costs, Mr Rees says that the trial length was greatly reduced by defendants admissions. Hence only requiring one prosecution witness. He thus invites the court to take account of what is reasonable and just.
Some defendants were in receipt of a variety of benefits and disability / incapacity benefits and thus the prosecution asking for £5,000 would thus be unreasonable and unjust. Further, ome prosecution work and costs would be common to the next trial to be heard and thus this should also be taken into account.
All three barristers representing the defence then gave individual mitigations for each of their clients.
Returning after lunch the Judge Jonathan Teare makes a brief summary of the facts of the case. He agrees he is thwarted in his wish to make the defendants pay a larger proportion of the costs of the case because of their limited means. Further, with respect to those with previous convictions, he had been minded to give suspended prison sentences. However, after a little discussion, it turns out that as the maximum penalty of three months imprisonment, a £2,500 fine, or both. That this short sentence cannot be suspended.
Thus, dealing with sentencing, five were given community orders [unpaid work] ranging from 18 to 90 hours to be carried out within 12 months.
The remaining thirteen all received conditional discharges ranging from 18 months to 2 years. Most had no order for cost awarded against them. However, two of the defendants had to pay £1000 and £500.
The Judge added as he sentenced them: I have read a great deal about all of you since the trial concluded. There is not one of you who cannot provide glowing references from peers or professionals. And, if I may select, some of the adjectives that recur throughout they are these: honest, sincere, conscientious, intelligent, committed, dedicated and caring. You are all decent men and women with a genuine concern for others, and in particular for the survival of planet Earth in something resembling its present form. I have no doubt that each of you acted with the highest possible motives. And that is an extremely important consideration.
Judge Teare went on and said the protest had been well-considered and well-prepared. You had come from every corner of the country. Transport, food, clothing, climbing and safety equipment had been organised, costing several thousand pounds. Mobile phones, walkie-talkies, gas detectors, hard helmets, sleeping bags and sanitary facilities had all been provided. You had been organised into teams and briefed on your actions.
But while accepting the protest had been intended as a legitimate action by people who genuinely believed in their cause, the Judge said that their motives could not absolve them from punishment.
In concluding, the Judge said that never before had he dealt with so many defendant who were polite, committed and punctual during proceedings.
Two defendants have had sentencing deferred until the 18 January 2011.
So, there you have it!
Over three and a half weeks, all present in the court were informed of the facts by leading experts in the field. I received a three and half week seminar on the subject. Although I knew a thing or two about the issues before my involvement in the trial, I came away knowing far more. Further, my own sense of alarm has been significantly increased. Something must be done!
The problem is that the jury weren’t so convinced as I was and didn’t accept the defence. They didn’t accept the idea of the democratic deficit. They still clearly believed that democratic means are sufficient to bring about the required changes and that the actions of these defendants were thus un-necessary.
There was never any dispute about the scientific facts and opinions presented during the trial. The prosecution didn’t take on any of the experts in their evidence. They were thus all agreed. Action is required within a very few years to avert our arrival at the ‘tipping points’ much referred to. Points beyond which almost anything industries and governments do will no longer have any effect, since the materials causing changes have such a lag before their effects come into being. I can only guess that the jury was as alarmed as I was about some of this evidence, but they still didn’t accept the need for urgent ‘direct actions’ by individuals on these matters. What I would call social responsibly in fact.
The jury are of course, representatives of the public. To make a sufficient difference to these issues, people must be informed and convinced of the need for action in large numbers, and shortly. The jury at the earlier Kingsnorth case were so convinced and acquitted those defendants.
Now, we can all cry about it. It should have been otherwise in this case too. How can I listen to the same evidence as they did and come to completely the opposite conclusions?
Those of us with concerns about all of this should make a better effort at ‘sharpening our pencils’ and trying to take millions more people with us in the need for more significant changes than we currently see. Direct action has to be an increasing component of this greater picture.
One of the defendants in this trial, Bradley Day, has contributed this article to the Guardian and hope it will help others to see ways ahead. There is so much to do.
The climate movement is in desperate need of renewal – Bradley Day Guardian 5 January 2011
If a jury that received extensive education on climate change could not vindicate the Ratcliffe activists, then who will?
Please also check out an article by Mike Schwarz. He is a partner in the Bindmans law firm and was instructing solicitor in this case.
Why did Ratcliffe defence fail where Kingsnorth Six succeeded? – Mike Schwarz Guardian 16 December 2010
Two separate trials of environmental activists that both targeted coal-fired power stations produced different results. Lawyer Mike Schwarz examines the reasons why.
Another trial of 6 other people arrested during the police operations in April 2009. will be starting on Monday 10th January, 10am at Nottingham Crown Court. As ever, I wish them the very best.
Will the last one alive on the planet, kindly turn the lights out!