Six environmental protesters accused of causing Â£30,000 worth of damage when they scaled a power station last year were cleared today. The protesters climbed the 200-metre stack of Kingsnorth power station last October, painting "Gordon" on its face to protest against the development of new coal-fired electricity plants.
The six, some of whom were Greenpeace volunteers, succeeded in temporarily shutting down the station, near Hoo in Kent, but abandoned their positions on the chimney after being threatened with a High Court injunction. The jury at Maidstone Crown Court found the five men and one woman not guilty by majority verdict. All had pleaded not guilty to charges of criminal damage.
The defendents claimed that they had "lawful excuse" because they were acting to protect property around the world "in immediate need of protection" from the impacts of climate change.
Eon, the owners of the plant, are planning to replace the existing unit with two new coal-fired plants which, if built, would be the first new coal build power plants built for over 20 years. Eon say that the units would produce enough electricity to supply around 1.5million homes.
Summing up, Judge David Caddick said that the case centred on whether or not the protesters had a lawful excuse for their actions. He told the jury that for a lawful excuse to be used it must be proved that the action was due to an immediate need to protect property belonging to another. Environmental campaigners have fought against the development of new coal-fired power stations as part of the fight against climate change.
Ben Stewart, one of the defendents, said: "This verdict marks a tipping point for the climate change movement. "If jurors from the heart of Middle England say itâ€™s legitimate for a direct action group to shut down a coal-fired power station because of the harm it does to our planet, then where does that leave government energy policy?" Chief Constable Mike Fuller of Kent Police said: 'We are considering the implications of the verdict with the Crown Prosecution Service."
Kingsnorth was also chosen as the location for part of the 2008 Camp for Climate Action in August, when more than 1,000 climate change activists camped at the site for more than a week. Police made over 100 arrests, the majority for obstruction and public order offenses.