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Drax coal train protestors found guilty

Jul 3

Written by:
03/07/2009 14:42  RssIcon

Climate change protesters on trial over stopping a train carrying coal to Drax power station found guilty.

Sarah Irving reports on the Drax coal train trial. Sarah Irving is a freelance journalist specialising in social and environmental issues.


Twenty-two climate change protesters on trial in Leeds on charges of stopping and obstructing a train carrying coal to Drax power station have been found guilty of their main charge, that of obstructing the train.

The defendants included three Manchester men, Robin Gillett, until recently communications officer at Manchester Student Union, Matthew Fawcett, a computer technician, and Tom Spencer, a musician and caterer.

They have been found not guilty of the lesser charge of stopping the train, apparently because it was impossible to establish exactly who was responsible for this act. Judge J. Spencer, trying the case, has announced that  the defendants will be given community service sentences, not the jail terms of up to two years which they had been threatened with.

They may also be forced to pay legal expenses of up to £100,000, and £37,000 in costs to clear the tracks after their action.

Citing UN figures of 300,000 worldwide deaths as a direct result of climate change per year, environmentalists estimate that 180 people die each year as a result of climate change emissions from Drax, which is Britain's single largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Government estimates for the costs to health and the environment of burning coal mean that Drax's emissions could drain £3 million a day from the public purse.

Judge Spencer had throughout the trial emphasised to the jury that they did not, in his opinion, have the option of accepting the defendants' plea that they were acting out of the 'urgent necessity' of stopping the 'greater crime' of climate change.

The judge had stated in court on Wednesday that “this trial is not about climate change,” and during evidence statements by the defendants had repeatedly told them to adhere to talking about the facts of the day in June 2008 when they boarded the train, locked themselves on and shovelled coal onto the tracks of the branch line which serves Drax power station.  The defendants did not question that they had taken the action, and stressed that they had been prepared – carrying food and tents – to remain on the coal wagons longer than the 18 hours they ultimately managed.

Despite this, a number of the defendants were able to outline facts about the effects of climate change. These included Paul Chatterton, a senior lecturer in geography at Leeds University, who described the links between climate change and social and health inequalities which his research has revealed and Dr Louise Hemmerman, a sociologist, who evoked the distress and deaths caused by the 2007 floods in her home town of Hull and the spectre of a future where such extreme weather events are commonplace.


Amy Clancy, a communications officer from Lancashire, said that she thought that taking part in the action was the “most responsible” thing she had ever done, although she had not been fully prepared for the severity of police searches of the houses of defendants and their families.

Jonathan Stevenson, a campaigner with the Jubilee coalition against third world debt, also outlined the shortcomings of the democratic system, describing an incident when an email from a major power generator demanding that the government absolve them from the responsibility of scrubbing carbon from their emissions was responded to in the affirmative within 6 minutes by BERR officials, while thousands of campaign messages urging restraints on coal burning went unanswered.

Stevenson emphasised that, along with many of his co-defendants, he had never taken direct action or been arrested before, and had felt driven to do so by the urgent need to address climate change. In the same week that the Drax trial began the Royal Society, Britain's foremost organisation of professional scientists, stated that Britain was failing to meet its CO2 emissions reduction targets, and that if it is to do so the government needs to curb the influence of the major power generation companies.

Despite the guilty verdict, one defendant said that he was “proud of the jury also that they didn't come straight back with a verdict, when the judge has said throughout that 'if you believe they were there and they did it you must find them guilty' and has ruled out context and motives as factors for consideration.”




2 comment(s) so far...

Re: Drax coal train protestors found guilty

Very depressing news.

Glad they have been spared the prospect of improsonment for acting on their beliefs.

Is there a fund we can contribute to?

By Michael W on   04/07/2009 15:42

Re: Drax coal train protestors found guilty

Let that not stop us. The Drax protestors are an inspiration. We are facing the greatest greenwash the UK has ever witnessed. Electricite de France, the French nuclear energie multinational is masquerading as British and green, and what's really bl**dy galling is they have nicked the Green Union Jack from British renewable energy company Ecotricity. So arrogant are these greenwashers that while their CEO is threatening to drop a nuclear reactor if the government doesn't fix the price of carbon, Martin Stead, is tickling the underbelly of the great and the good to persuade them to get into bed with this monster. Enough of this rubbish. I lived through fairwash and had to sit on the sidelines as fair trade was turned into a fog. Can't do it this time. Climate Change is too important. We need massive investment in renewables to build a sustainable energy platform in Great Britain - nuclear is short term and, in the longer run, it will require more fuel to build, run and decommission reactors than they will produce. Today Ecotricity threatened legal action. If you would like to join us because you care about an open and honest debate, because you want a sustainable future or just because you feel creative work should not be ripped off... here is where you'll find us. Hope to see you about. R End the greenwash, put EDF back in their box.

By Robin Smith on   06/07/2009 23:11


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