United Kingdom

XR protesters 'requested Sun owner Rupert Murdoch be brought to protest', police officer tells court

Extinction Rebellion protestors allegedly requested Sun owner Rupert Murdoch be brought to a protest at a newspaper print works, a police officer told the court following disruption to the XR trial as an activist glued himself to the dock.

Six of the protestors accused of taking part in the unlawful protest went on trial at St Albans Magistrates' Court on Monday, accused of the wilful obstruction of the road outside the News Print plant in Broxbourne, Herts, where the Sun is printed. 

The first witness in the case to give evidence was PC Josh Wilson, who claimed that protestors asked him to get the Sun owner Rupert Murdoch down to the scene. 

It comes as the trial of six extinction rebellion protestors was thrown into disruption this morning when one of the defendants glued his hand to a table in the courtroom.

PC Wilson, who arrived on the scene outside the plant gates on the night of September 4 last year at around 11.30pm, said the road outside the gates was blocked.

Protesters outside St Albans Magistrates' Court, where XR activists who were arrested during blockade of News Corp printing works in Hertfordshire on September 4 2020 are due in court

He told the court that it was his job to talk to members of Extinction Rebellion and try and persuade them to move out of the road.

During the protest, the group which numbered 50, with 30 of their supporters looking on, had erected two massive bamboo structures as a blockade outside the main gates to the plant in Hertfordshire.

From each a protestor was hanging while underneath others were laying on the ground, while two vans were being used by the protestors to stop traffic going in and out of the print work.

Protestors were lying on the ground underneath the vehicles and sitting on the roofs.   

While being cross-examined by Mr Raj Chada, who represents four of the protestors, PC Wilson said he found out that night that the protest was about the 'control of the media'.

The officer said he and his colleagues repeatedly pointed out to the protestors they were in breach of the law and asked them to move out of the road. 

Mr Chada put it to the officer: 'Five crooks in control of our news?'

PC Wilson answered: 'That's correct.'

A man believed to be Liam Norton is led from St Albans Magistrates Court this morning

Mr Chada asked the officer: 'People were talking about one particular owner? That was Rupert Murdoch?'

'That was correct,' said the officer.

Asked if there were any specific requests from the group, the officer said: 'A request to get Mr Murdoch down to the location.'

PC Wilson said he relayed the request to his senior officers.

Tim Speer, 25, one of the six who is on trial and who is defending himself, cross examined PC Wilson and put it to him that Rupert Murdoch was promoting hate speech.

'I just don't know why you haven't arrested him,' he told the officer.

He then went on to question the officer about his understanding of the 'climate situation'.

Inspector Matthew Barton, who attended the protest, agreed that the protest that night was about the group's concerns about the ownership of the media and the way the climate crisis was being reported. 

PC Wilson also told the court that the effect of the blockade meant that nothing could leave the plant or enter, and workers who had finished their shift were trapped and the transportation of newspapers away from the plant was threatened.

The case had just been called on and the judge had taken her seat when accused, Liam Norton, got to his feet to rant in court, yelling out 'I would like to make clear what is going on in this court is obvious and complete criminality.'

He went on: 'Judge, what you are going is illegal.'

On Monday, six of the protestors accused of taking part in the unlawful protest went on trial at St Albans Magistrates' Court, including Morgan Trowland, 38, of Hackney, London (pictured)

All six are charged with the wilful obstruction of the highway. Pictured: James Ozden, 35, from Tottenham, London

With the palm of his left hand on a table, he continued: 'What we have seen over decades is organised criminality in this country and unfortunately the only thing to do, as I have showed, is contempt, as you have.'

Norton, whose eyes were hidden behind a mask, then revealed to security staff who entered the courtroom at St Albans Magistrates Court, that in fact his flat hand on the table, had been glued to the surface.

As he continued his rant against the government, cheering, singing and clapping broke out from his supporters in the public gallery.

He told his supporters and others in court: 'I am left with no option but to disobey and show contempt.'

District Judge Sally Fudge then left courtroom number six and the gallery was cleared as security staff dealt with the situation. 

It took two hours to free Mr Norton and he was arrested and removed from the court building and taken to Hatfield Police Station.

The trial then got underway against the other five and Mr Norton in his absence.

The defendants were all protesting that night because of what they say is the mis-reporting of the climate change crisis. 

The six due to stand trial, who were alleged to have been part of an Extinction Rebellion protest which blockaded a newspaper print works preventing the distribution of three and a half million papers, are: Liam Norton, 36, from Scarborough, Eleanor Davidson, 33, from Streatham, London, James Ozden, 35, from Tottenham, London, Tim Speers, 25, from Waltham Forest, Morgan Trowland, 38, of Hackney, London and Eleanor Bujak, 28, of Finsbury Park, London. 

All are charged with the wilful obstruction of the highway. 

The court was told the effect of the blockade meant that nothing could leave the plant or enter. Pictured: Tim Speers, 25, from Waltham Forest

XR action saw protesters targeting Newsprinters printing works at Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, and Knowsley, near Liverpool, blocking the day's newspapers from leaving the depots 

In all, 51 people were charged with obstructing the highway following the blockade of the Newsprinters printworks in Great Eastern Road, Waltham Cross. 

During the protest last September, activists used vehicles and bamboo lock-ons to block roads near Newsprinters' Broxbourne site.

A second blockade of the company's printing works in Knowsley, near Liverpool, took place on the same day.

The Newsprinters presses publish the Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corp's titles including the Sun, Times, Sun On Sunday and Sunday Times, as well as the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, the Daily Mail and Mail On Sunday, and the London Evening Standard.

It meant readers were delayed in receiving, or did not receive their copies of their respective newspapers.

Extinction Rebellion claimed at the time the demonstration was in response to the newspapers' failure to report on the climate and ecological emergency.

In his impromptu speech in the courtroom, Mr Norton said 'Society is on the brink of collapse and the Crown Prosecution Service continue to criminalise protests.

'Corruption is flowing through the highest levels of our system, yet our system continues to criminalise us.'

The case is proceeding.

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