United Kingdom

Judge rejects appeals by Extinction Rebellion activists to have criminal damage convictions

Two climate change protestors who glued themselves to the security gates of a coal mining company saw their appeals against conviction thrown out by a judge.

Shulamit Morris Evans, 24, and Angela Ditchfield, 42, launched the three hour protest during Global Coal Management’s (GCM) annual general meeting in Cavendish Square, central London, on December 28, 2018.

Police were able to remove the glue from the Extinction Rebellion protestors’ hands, but their actions resulted in a £2,152 clean up bill.

Trainee rabbi Morris-Evans and Ditchfield said they were motivated to perform the protest by GCM’s plans to build a coalmine in Bangladesh, which will cause loss of life and contribute to the climate crisis.

The pair were convicted of criminal damage, given conditional discharges and ordered to pay court costs and victim surcharges totalling £370 each at City of London Magistrates’ Court in October 2019.

But they appealed against their convictions at Southwark Crown Court on the grounds that they hadn’t intended to cause the damage.

Shulamit Morris-Evans (centre) and Angela Ditchfield (left) glued hands to gates where Global Coal Management was hosting its annual general meeting, causing £2,152 worth of damage

They argued the damage they caused did not meet the legal definition of criminal damage after a judge said their appeal was based upon a ‘fundamental misconception’ of the law.

His remarks came a fortnight after six Extinction Rebellion protesters were cleared of criminal damage despite a jury being told by the judge there was no defence in law for their actions.

Activists had targeted Shell’s London HQ, claiming the oil firm was directly contributing to climate change.

Judge Gregory Perrins told Morris-Evans and Ditchfield: ‘Damage is not defined in the Criminal Damage Act 1971. Whether something constitutes damage is therefore a matter of fact and degree.

‘As such it is a matter for us, applying our common sense, to decide whether any damage was in fact caused to the speed gates.

‘That damage need not be permanent or even long-lasting.

Pictured: Extinction Rebellion protesters Shulamit Morris-Evans (L) and Angela Ditchfield (R) pictured with Amy Pritchard standing outside London Magistrates' Court at an earlier hearing

Morris-Evans pictured with other XR protesters alongside her during an XR demonstration

‘It is argued on behalf of Miss Ditchfield - an argument adopted by Miss Morris-Evans - that even if we are satisfied that the appellants left behind the marks on the gates we should not find that those marks constitute damage for the purposes of this offence.

‘It is submitted that where someone is exercising their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of protest under the ECHR - as these appellants clearly were - we should interpret damage restrictively so as to exclude anything which might be said to be minimal, temporary, or transient.

‘There is in fact no direct authority in support of this proposition.

‘The next question is whether the prosecution have proved that the defendants intended to cause damage to the speed gates or were reckless as to whether such damage be caused.

‘Having heard both appellants give evidence and having listened to closing submissions there appears to have been a fundamental misunderstanding on the part of the appellants as the test that must be applied.

‘This risk is not that permanent damage might be cause, simply that some damage be caused.

The primary school teacher who glued herself to offices used by a coal firm justified her actions in court because fossil fuels 'passes a death sentence on many people', she claimed

‘This is not a case where we necessarily question the integrity of the account given by either appellant. However, we do take the view that this appeal is based upon a fundamental misconception of the law.

‘We find that the application of glue to speeds gates is capable of constituting damage.

‘We further find that both appellants were aware of the risk of such damage being caused, however temporary in nature.

‘Accordingly, these appeals are rejected.’

Former teacher Morris-Evans said: ‘I wouldn’t have persisted, and come here today to take up the time of many learned men at significant financial risk, if I didn’t strongly believe that, given that the criteria for criminal damage require at least an awareness of a risk of damage, and given that that I had sound reasons to believe there was no risk and therefore do not meet those legal criteria, I should be found innocent of criminal damage in the eyes of the law.’

Will Durrands, for Ditchfield, said: ‘These women were exercising their convention rights through their protest.

‘I do not imagine it is in dispute that this was a protest, those involved were exercising their rights of freedom of assembly and expression - and that they were doing so in a peaceful way.

‘This is highly relevant in the context of temporary or minimal damage - in that for a period, there was glue on the surfaces that had to be cleaned off - and could be cleaned off easily.

‘It was their intention to disrupt 33 Cavendish Square until and unless the AGM was cancelled, it was then their plan to detach, clean up and leave. The plan was never to damage. 

‘In their mind was GCM’s imminent plan to construct the Phulbari Coal mine in agreement with Chinese companies.

‘In their mind was the immediate human and natural cost of this project on the hundreds of thousands of people who live in the Phulbari region. 

‘For these reasons, I invite you to allow this appeal and quash these convictions.’

Morris-Evans, of Kentish Town, north London, and Ditchfield, of Cambridge, were both ordered to pay prosecution costs of £300.

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