I am not a criminal
31 January 2019
In Milton Keynes, on Friday 25 January, I was one of 24 Greenpeace activists found guilty of ‘aggravated trespass’. All those (myself included) without any previous criminal convictions, were given 12-month conditional discharges, with damages and court costs of £105 each. Those who had got previous convictions were, in addition, fined £200 each.
Our case arose from a Greenpeace ‘air pollution’ action back in August 2018, which peacefully locked-down VW’s UK HQ in Milton Keynes for most of one day - according to VW, this prevented 960 employees from getting into work, costing the company £166,000.
After the verdicts, I was minded of what the Ancient Greek playwright, Euripides, wrote: ‘Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.’
Many companies - such as Volvo - have already committed to phasing out the production of diesel vehicles. However, the VW ‘stable’ - which is responsible for 1 in 5 of all new diesel vehicles being put on UK roads today - had refused, for over a year, all Greenpeace requests to discuss this issue.
But, on the very day of that Greenpeace action, VW finally agreed to discuss the issue; and, 3 months later, have announced they will phase out all diesel production by 2040.
The crime of air pollution
As is widely known, air pollution is bad for all those with lung complaints, and for the elderly - but it is particularly harmful to the brain and lung development of young children. It is claimed that, in London alone, over 9000 deaths a year are linked to air pollution.
In fact, just 2 weeks before our trial, a judge had given permission for a second inquest into the death of 9-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah in 2013, following a severe asthma attack. She had not been born with asthma - but lived near London’s S. Circular Road, which is a notorious air-pollution hotspot.
Professor Stephen Holgate, who examined the case, believes that - without the illegally-high levels of air pollution the government still fails to stop - Ella would not have died. He said there was a ‘striking association’ between when Ella was admitted to hospital, and spikes in the most dangerous air pollutants recorded by government monitoring stations near her home.
In 2017, London’s air was so dirty, it breached the ANNUAL limit for pollution just 5 days into the year - one site near Ella’s home broke the HOURLY limits for nitrogen dioxide concentrations 24 times over that same 5-day period.
Yet we - not the polluters, or the UK government which continues to fail to protect its citizens - are the ones judged to be the ‘criminals’ in all this!
Like the other 84 Extinction Rebellion campaigners who were arrested during the ‘Five Bridges’ action back in November, I’m still waiting to see if I will be prosecuted for my ‘wilful obstruction of a highway’ (Lambeth Bridge, in my case).
However, despite the conditional discharge, I will continue to engage in non-violent direct action - with Greenpeace, and with Extinction Rebellion (we’ve just set up an ‘Extinction Rebellion Cumbria’ group) - regardless of the law and the legal system. In particular, the Climate Crisis is now so serious that failure to take peaceful actions would be the real crime.
Because, sometimes it is necessary to break laws in order to achieve better laws and policies. This has been shown countless times in history: the women who struggled for the vote in the UK; Gandhi in India; and Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks in the US Civil Rights Campaign.
We also need to remember that Hitler became Chancellor legally, under the German Constitution then in force - and the Nuremburg Laws which increasingly discriminated against Jewish people were, technically, legal. So those who broke those racist laws and, instead, gave help and shelter to those being persecuted, were judged to be ‘criminals’.
But history, rightly, has judged the members of the legal professions who enforced the Nazis’ totally immoral legal system - because ‘it was the law’ - as, morally, hardly less guilty than those who crammed Jewish people into the trains, operated those trains, and chased them out of the trains and straight into the gas chambers on arrival at the death camps.
So… in the words of Anonymous UK: ‘Expect me!’
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