A group of protesters trespassed on to a coal-fired power station and vandalised it, painting a message to UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown about global warming. They were arrested and prosecuted.
Their defence strategy was to claim a "lawful excuse" on the grounds that their actions could help prevent significant damage to others' property that would result from global warming. Their defence witnesses included James Hansen, Al Gore's adviser and head of NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies, and Zac Goldsmith, ultra-wealthy heir of Sir James Goldsmith and a wannabe Tory MP.
The strategy worked. Yesterday, a jury returned a majority verdict, acquitting the so-called "Kingsnorth Six". As The Independent put it, the jury decided the "threat of global warming justifies breaking the law."
Kingsnorth Power Station
This is bloody appalling. In the first place, it provides a precedent for protesters to take any action they see fit. The animal rights activists who attack the families of scientists or dig up a farmer's granny could claim "lawful excuse". Terrorists could claim that the threat to their families from American troops in Afghanistan was a "lawful excuse" for planting bombs in London buses.
Hundreds of protesters who have been fined or imprisoned for demonstrating outside American airforce bases over the years could appeal on the grounds that they had a "lawful excuse" because they were trying to make the world safe from nuclear weapons.
And all of these lawful excuses would have a damn sight more justification than the Kingsnorth Six. After all, it would be cruel to make guinea-pigs smoke eighty cigarettes a day, if indeed anyone were doing that - which of course they aren't. It could certainly be argued that the presence of American troops in Afghanistan - or British ones, come to that - poses a threat to ordinary Afghan families going about their lawful business of growing opium. And nuclear weapons undoubtedly pose a risk to the safety of the world, although alternatives may be even worse.
Those are all real threats that many of us would recognise. Global warming, on the other hand, doesn't exist - not in the last ten years, anyway. And if it did, there is little question of it being man-made anyway, so to target coal-fired power stations is absurd.
And it's not just protesters who could benefit from this precedent. "Your honour, I admit I stole that BMW 3-series, but I had a lawful excuse. It belonged to a 19-year-old driver who only passed his test a month ago, so I took it to save him from driving it dangerously and possibly killing innocent people …" sounds pretty good to me.
Secondly, this verdict throws into doubt the whole system of jury trials. In this country we've always clung tenaciously to the principle of "twelve good men and true", but it seems as though juries can't be trusted to make rational decisions any more. Bombarded by politically correct propaganda, their brains addled by hysterical newspaper reporting and dumbed-down television, betrayed by a school system that leaps this way and that to embrace every latest fad, many members of the public just aren't very bright . Would you like your future to hang on the opinions of people who only a month ago told a YouGov poll that more than half of them had negative views of Anthony Hopkins and Michael Palin, and 38% of them regarded Paris Hilton as a positive role-model?
Frankly I'd sooner take my chances with just one judge. Senile and out-of-touch he might be, but at least he had a proper education once upon a time, and got a university degree in something with a bit more intellectual rigour than hairdressing or leisure management. He can probably spell, too.
The GOS isn't against protest, lawful or not. In fact, we don't do nearly enough of it. But when he picks up his placard and takes to the streets, he doesn't expect the law-courts to encourage him. When one protests against the establishment and its actions, it rather takes the gilt off the gingerbread to find the bloody establishment shoulder to shoulder with you at the barricade.
The GOS says: Mind you, it could be worse. If you think British people are stupid, try being an American. Some Yank was saying on the television the other day that only 10% of Americans can find the USA on a map ...
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