Europe

XR activist who caused £100k damage weeps at prospect of prison

Birmingham: Extinction Rebellion throws paint over Barclays bank

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An Extinction Rebellion protester broke down in tears when she was told she and six other women may face jail time after they cracked the window of Barclays London headquarters with hammers and chisels, and received a standing ovation from court onlookers. Carol Wood cried at Southwark Crown Court yesterday, after she was found guilty of causing criminal damage to the bank’s Canary Wharf office on April 7 last year, an act which caused nearly £100,000 in damage.

Ms Wood, along with the other activists – Nicola Stickells, 52, Sophie Cowen, 31, Lucy Porter, 48, Gabriella Ditton, 28, Rosemary Webster, 64, and Zoe Cohen, 52 – were found guilty by a jury who came to a majority of 11 to one, following nine hours of deliberation. They argued in court that their actions had emulated the suffragettes, who also broke windows as a form of protest, and told jurors that Barclays is the global banking industry’s seventh largest funder of fossil fuels, and the largest in Europe.

The defendants were given a standing ovation by over 20 supporters in the public gallery following the hearing.

Ms Cowen was the only member of the group not to have a previous conviction, with the group members’ prior crimes including criminal damage, wilful obstruction of a highway, breaching directions imposed on public assemblies or a combination of all three. The women were told by prosecutor Diana Wilson that their sentences could range from community orders to 18 months in prison – with judge Milne KC saying “all options” would be considered.

Sentencing will take place on January 27 2023, also in Southwark Crown Court.

In April 2021 the women, associated with activist group Extinction Rebellion, had taken to the front of Barclays bank in East London, and set about using hammers and chisels to break its large glass panels.

The court also heard the group stuck leaflets on the windows that read: “In case of climate emergency, break glass.” Other signs pinned up at the scene read: “Better broken windows than broken promises.”

The seven women then sat in a line on the street, while they were videoed and photographed by the public and members of the press, jurors heard. In their court hearing, the group made the argument that Barclays staff would have consented to the damage, had they been fully informed about the climate crisis.

This was denied by the prosecutor, who during her closing speech said the activists broke the windows to “impose their views and force change”, adding they “believe themselves to be above the law”.

Trained cook Ms Webster said she “cracked” the glass windows to “raise the alarm”, labelling Barclays the “county lines of banking” and alleging it was “putting profits before people and the planet.”

Meanwhile Ms Porter, a former teacher, told the court the bank’s windows had been replaced, but the same could never be said of “ecosystems” which were irreplaceable. She added that disrupting bankers over the course of a morning is incomparable with watching a child die of starvation.

Ms Ditton said Barclays is “financing the destruction of everything that we know and love”, and said it was “necessary” to break the bank’s windows to “sound an alarm.”

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In a previous effort to influence their direction, Ms Cohen had become a shareholder of the bank in early 2021 to put forward a resolution asking them to phase out funding for fossil fuels – but it was voted down. She said she “honestly” believed that by April 2021, there were no other options to achieve change.

Ms Cohen added the repair costs, which reached 97,022, were insignificant for the major bank – which spent a total of £100million on refurbishments last year. All seven denied criminal damage, but were all convicted of the crime.

Extinction Rebellion responded to the verdict with a video shared on Twitter which included clips of the women smashing the bank’s windows last April, which the group said they “carefully cracked.”

They tweeted: “BREAKING: COURT VALIDATES BARCLAYS DEADLY SUPPORT FOR FOSSIL FUELS. Today, 7 women were found guilty of criminal damage to Barclays HQ after they carefully cracked the windows in April 2021. They will be sentenced on 27th Jan & face up to 18 months in prison.”

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