A scientist from Brighton has won his appeal against a conviction for criminal damage during a protest outside a government department.
Ben Benatt, 55, a chartered environmental engineer, from Patcham, was one of four Scientists for Extinction Rebellion to be cleared at Southwark Crown Court.
Mr Benatt, an ecologist, was part of a group of nine scientists who pasted scientific papers, used chalk spray and glued themselves to the windows of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
They said that their act of non-violent civil disobedience last April was intended to highlight the danger posed by new oil and gas exploration.
Judge Nicholas Rimmer, who heard the appeal yesterday by four of the scientists, said that the the choice of the building reflected the fact that “the protest was directly focused on the responsibilities of His Majesty’s government for the climate emergency and in particular its role in issuing new oil and gas licences”.
The court also noted that there was “scant” evidence of criminal damage produced by the prosecution.
Judge Rimmer concluded, as he dismissed the case and found all four defendants not guilty, that it was clear that “the protestors held heartfelt and real concerns about climate change and these are very important issues”.
He found that the conviction of the four scientists last September was a disproportionate response to their actions.
At the time of the protest, the scientists took great care not to cause any damage by using easily washable and removable substances.
Extinction Rebellion said: “The outcome of this appeal highlights once again the inconsistencies of the legal system.
“The five other scientists who took part in the action at BEIS were separately tried in October and, in accordance with the recent ruling in relation to the Colston Four appeal, were found to have no case to answer.
“However, it took more time and money for the four remaining scientists to be vindicated and prove that, like their colleagues, they were exercising their rights to protest under the Human Rights Act.
“While climate protestors are often accused of wasting police time, the government’s response is to pile more for the police to deal with in terms of legislation to curb protests in alarming and repressive ways.
“While our judicial system is crumbling due to lack of funding, our government prioritises prosecuting peaceful climate protestors over those charged with real crimes.
“So we have to ask ourselves some serious questions. Who is wasting time and money? Why is the government so determined to shut down people who are raising the alarm? Why is it wasting precious time when it should be addressing the climate and ecological breakdown? Why is the government still funding new oil and gas exploration while ignoring the solutions of mitigation and adaptation that will bring a liveable future?”
Mr Benatt said: “We went to considerable lengths to get here but felt we had no option.
“The UK government’s push ‘full steam ahead’ in licensing murderous exploitation of new fossil fuel reserves while criminalising trivial damage caused by peaceful protestors is disgraceful and must be challenged.”