Subscribe to our newsletter for exclusive editorial emails from the Byline Times Team.
The co-founder of Extinction Rebellion has been given a suspended prison sentence of one year and three months for breaking the window of a government department in a protest against the environmental impacts of HS2.
Gail Bradbrook, 51, was sentenced today at Isleworth Crown Court following a two-day trial in November in which a jury found her guilty of criminal damage. She was also ordered to do 150 hours of community service.
She was prosecuted after smashing a window at the Department for Transport building in London on 15 October 2019, causing £27,660 worth of damage.
Bradbrook said her prosecution showed the law was “increasingly set against effective forms of protest”.
It was the second trial in this case. The first, in July, was suspended after Bradbrook defied judge Martin Edmunds order to stop speaking about her motivations. Bradbrook had prepared a lengthy speech for her second trial but was not allowed to read it in full.
Don’t miss a story
Sign up to the Behind the Headlines newsletter (and get a free copy of Byline Times in the post)
“The fact that she had a conscientious motive is a given,” said the judge before sentencing Bradbrook. But he said it was not his job to evaluate or comment on the validity of those causes.
Representing herself, Bradbrook retorted that she was not simply acting on a “cause” but was motivated by objective evidence on human-caused climate breakdown, which shows a threat to the life of her two children. “This is not fiction or exaggeration. It is what science tells us will result from our current energy policies.”
Addressing the court, she criticised the Government’s action to cut greenhouse gas emissions and accused it of lying to the public about the impact of its climate policies. She also spoke about the historic role of civil disobedience in pushing for social change.
Judge Edmunds said he took into account Bradbrook’s conscientious motives, her character references and the fact that she was a law-abiding citizen apart from her protest activities when sentencing her. But he said these were tempered by the high value of the damage she had caused and her lack of remorse.
He said Bradbrook had intended to commit a crime, having gone to the Department for Transport equipped with tools and posters, and having informed a member of the press. “This prosecution was one you actively sought,” he told Bradbrook.
He suspended Bradbrook’s jail sentence for 15 months, warning her that she could be imprisoned if she commits a further offence during that time.
The Crown Prosecution Service tried to argue that Bradbrook should be banned from taking part in climate protests – a bail condition that has recently been given to a number of climate activists – but the judge declined to do so.
In court, Bradbrook compared her trial to those of other climate protestors charged with very similar crimes, where judges allowed defendants to make specific legal defences and put fewer restrictions on what could be said.
In November, for example, nine protestors who smashed the windows of HSBC’s London headquarters to draw attention to the bank’s fossil fuel lending policies were all acquitted at Southwark Crown Court. They argued that they believed HSBC’s shareholders would have agreed to their actions if they had known the scale of the climate crisis and the bank’s contribution to it.
It is not the only case where juries have been sympathetic to climate protestors, even if they have no defence in law.
In October, five people were acquitted of conspiracy to commit criminal damage for spraying fake blood over the Treasury building from a decommissioned fire engine. A sixth case was dropped after the judge said it would not be in the public interest to proceed.
In other cases, judges have dismissed charges against activists, finding no evidence of ‘significant disruption’ or ruling that their actions were proportional under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Bradbrook told the court that, as someone who believes in democracy and the right to a fair trial, “I was denied the opportunity to present myself properly to the jury as others have been able to do”.
However, other UK climate activists are also getting weighty sentences.
Morgan Trowland was released from Highpoint prison in Suffolk last week after serving 14 months for causing a public nuisance by climbing the Dartford Crossing to protest against the UK’s approval of new oil and gas licences. It was, to date, the longest prison stay for non-violent climate protest.
A growing number of these charges are brought under the Public Order Act – a law passed earlier this year that has heavily been criticised for the way it clamps down on protest rights.
Last week, for example, 57-year-old Stephen Gingell was sentenced to six months in prison for marching in the road with other members of Just Stop Oil after he pleaded guilty to breaching section 7 of the Public Order Act. This prohibits interference with the use or operation of key national infrastructure.
Judge Edmunds is due to sentence another Extinction Rebellion co-founder in February.
Roger Hallam, who also founded Just Stop Oil; and Dr Larch Maxey, a sustainability researcher at Swansea University were found guilty last week of conspiracy to cause public nuisance for planning to fly drones in the prohibited zone of Heathrow airport in September 2019. A third person involved in the planning, former London mayoral candidate Valerie Brown, was acquitted of the same offence.
The markedly different approaches of judges to handling protest cases in recent years have led to criticisms from activists of a ‘legal lottery’.
Bradbrook maintained throughout her trial and sentencing that she was not a criminal, and said that the UK’s court system was on trial.
Outside court, surrounded by women dressed as suffragettes, she said: “I did what was right to do and the law in this country is unable to recognise this. We should take seriously the many times throughout the trial that the judge and prosecutors were saying that they’re only doing what they’re compelled to do by the arrangements of the current law. And this current law is increasingly set against effective forms of protest.”
She urged climate activists to continue with acts of resistance and to do everything they can to defend the jury system.
Game of Thrones star Jerome Flynn told supporters gathered outside the court: “I believe that anyone who is awake to these times will feel in their bones that a mother, scientist and concerned citizen like Gail Bradbrook shouldn’t be punished for taking actions to protect her children and the children of all of life.”
Further criminal trials of climate protestors are due to take place next year, with charges including criminal damage and conspiracy to cause public nuisance.
Following her sentencing, Bradbrook immediately released a 75-page dossier of arguments she says her jury was stopped from hearing. “Our so called justice system is a lottery for climate defenders and not fit for purpose when it comes to tackling the climate and nature crisis,” she added.
Do you have a story that needs highlighting? Get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org