In an extraordinary majority verdict by a jury, six Greenpeace activists were recently acquitted of charges of criminal damage on the grounds that they were acting to prevent immediate damage caused by climate change.

The protestors scaled a 200 metre smoke stack at E.On’s Kingsnorth power station last October and managed to daub ‘Gordon’ on it before coming down causing some £30,000 worth of damage. The reference was intended to call on Gordon Brown to refuse the application then before BERR, but now to be decided by the new Ministry for energy and climate change, for a new coal-fired power station on the Kingsnorth site – the protestors had intended to write ‘Gordon, bin it’. They were demonstrating against the grant of consent unless the power station is fitted with carbon capture and storage technology on the grounds that it would further contribute to already dangerous levels of greenhouse gas emissions and prevent the UK demonstrating leadership in tackling the issue on the international stage.

The protestors argued they had a lawful excuse to the charge of criminal damage as their actions were necessary to immediately protect property damaged by emissions from the Kingsnorth power station from climate change – the property they sought to protect included an Antarctic ice shelf and coastal areas of the UK, including Kent. Expert witnesses included Professor Jim Hansen, Al Gore’s climate change adviser, and an Inuit leader.

The trial judge allowed the defence to go to the jury, when arguably he should not have done so – it being a question of law whether the act was one capable of immediate protection of property.