December 8, 2023

Nine climate protesters have been cleared by a jury of causing £500,000 worth of criminal damage to the windows at the headquarters of HSBC bank in London.

The women, who were all taking action as members of Extinction Rebellion, sang and chanted as they shattered the custom-made glass windows with hammers and chisels at about 7am on 22 April 2021.

They were wearing patches reading “better broken windows than broken promises” and placed stickers on the windows of the bank reading “£80bn into fossil fuels in the last five years”.

Jessica Agar, 23, Blyth Brentnall, 32, Valerie Brown, 71, Eleanor Bujak, 30, Clare Farrell, 40, Miriam Instone, 25, Tracey Mallaghan, 47, Susan Reid, 65 and Samantha Smithson, 41, all denied criminal damage. They were cleared of the charge by a jury on Thursday after a three-week trial.

The fashion designer Stella McCartney had lent the women shirts, blazers and suits to wear during their trial at Southwark crown court.

After the verdict, Farrell, an associate lecturer in sustainable fashion at Central Saint Martins, said: “This was a trial of unusual agreement; the facts of the day were not in any dispute, and the fact that we’re on course for civilisational breakdown and climate collapse seemed strangely not to be in dispute either.

“It’s tragically surreal to live in times when the justice system agrees we’re totally fucked but has nothing to say about the cause, the remedy, the victims or the perpetrators. We must continue, we will.”

Opening the case, Sally Hobson, prosecuting, said: “They accept that on 22 April 2021, they went to the HSBC building armed with hammers and chisels and they also accept that they used those tools to break the windows – they were responsible for the damage.

“The value of the damage caused is in the region of £500,000 and additional security measures caused further expenditure so as to ensure damage was not caused again.

“Although the defendants accept they caused the damage, they deny that their actions amount to criminal conduct. Simply put, the damage was caused during a protest and the defendants say that they were lawfully justified in doing what they did.

“We say that whatever the purpose behind them causing the damage there was no lawful excuse for doing so. It was, we say, unlawful conduct outside of a lawful protest.”

Reid, a retired community worker from Preston, said after the acquittal: “Unicef estimated that over 20,000 children are displaced each day, and that climate change is the key driver. That means that every day of our three-week trial over 20,000 children have had to pick up the things around them and leave, none of those children will be able to go home at the end of the day.

“I have spent my life caring for the people around me and I refused to stand by while HSBC poured money into the very thing we know is causing unimaginable harm. The jury’s verdict today shows that ordinary people will not give their consent to the destructive violence of investing in fossil fuels in 2023.”

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