Systematically undermining direct action

There was always something odd about the conviction of a group of twenty climate activists for planning to shut down the coal-fired power station at Ratcliffe-on-Soar in Nottinghamshire late last year. Double standards were at play, because in 2007 a Greenpeace group actually succeeded in occupying Kingsnorth power station in Kent and painting "Gordon" in huge letters on the main chimney stack ... yet they were acquitted of the charges against them on the grounds that their protest was justified.

I posted an article about it here. It's well worth looking at the video of their story again:


The reports from the Guardian and Independent at the time are here:

     Not guilty: the Greenpeace activists who used climate change as a legal defence
     Cleared: Jury decides that threat of global warming justifies breaking the law

The Independent's headline was misleading. The significance of the verdict was that this direct action was not in fact against the law. Yes, there was damage, but the court decided that the damage was justified in order to prevent greater damage.

At first I wondered if the conviction in this case was more because of differences in perception between the north and south of England, and thought that the similar differences between Wales and England explained why a jury in Caernarfon would not convict the Penyberth Three, so that the trial had to be moved to a place where the UK authorities could find a jury that would convict them. In fact I looked forward to the time when a jury in Wales would refuse to convict those from Cymdeithas yr Iaith for the very minor damage to shops resulting from their direct action, on the grounds that it was justified in order to prevent much greater damage to the Welsh language.


Yet today the picture widened in a way that shows how large the gulf is between the largely sympathetic way the public see peaceful civil disobedience and the way the authorities fear it. The trial that has just been abandoned was against another six people arrested at the same time, but on more serious charges. This excellent article from Newsnight gives the background:


It beggars belief that the rather disturbing National Public Order Intelligence Unit should plant an undercover officer for a period of seven years. How can such tactics—not to mention the cost—be justified against non-violent protesters? How many more officers might currently be doing the same?

I think Mark Stone/Kennedy deserves some credit for finally doing what is right. If he hadn't spoken out, I'm sure that the trial would have progressed with neither the defendants nor the public being any the wiser. He might also be at risk as a result. Some might say he deserves it, but he was just a pawn. I think the authorities that run the United Kingdom deserve much greater condemnation for systematically indulging in what can only be described as political policing to suppress those who are prepared to take principled, non-violent direct action on things that matter.

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