Shropshire Star

Shropshire climate protesters deny they intended to force bank branch to close

Protesters chained themselves together in a bank in Cardiff to raise awareness of the issue of the company's investments in the fossil fuel industry, and not to force a branch to close, a court has been told.

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Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire.

Four climate activists from Shropshire were among a group of seven Extinction Rebellion campaigners who chained themselves to a table in a customer waiting area at a Cardiff branch of Barclays Bank during a 'Day of Action' on November 14.

They have been charged with aggravated trespass and they were cross examined on their motivations during a court hearing on Tuesday.

Michael Bastow, 63, of Victoria Road, Oswestry, drove to Shrewsbury station to meet up with other Extinction Rebellion and travel by train to Cardiff.

Mr Bastow told District Judge David Webster at Cardiff Crown Court on Tuesday that the protest was about "raising awareness" over fossil fuel investments made by Barclays.

"Being in the bank raises that awareness," he said. "Being outside the bank means it just tends to pass by.

"The press covers something visual."

Mr Bastow chained himself to a table close to a window and the others were chained to him.

Asked what his reaction was to being asked to leave the bank he said: "It was really important to make the message of the things about loss of life."

But he said he did not anticipate that the bank would have to close.

"It was not our intention to disrupt the bank but to raise visual awareness of the risk to life of business as usual," he said.

When asked if he accepted that he was a trespasser in the bank he said: "It was to go in and raise awareness."

Mr Bastow denied that messages on placards had not been designed to deter people from using the bank.

"It's about giving people the information and letting go of the outcome," he said. "It's about doing the protest, giving the information, that's my work. It is for customers then to decide.

"It's about my long-term wellbeing."

Jamie Russell, 48, of Well Meadow Drive, Shrewsbury, said his understanding was that "as long as we weren't disrupting the bank's business that nobody would be charged.

"None of us wanted to get arrested, staying under the threshold was really important to us."

Mr Russell, whose protesting life started at Barclays Bank in Shrewsbury in 2019 said he has been on more protests than he could remember but without arrests.

He said that during protests at Barclays Bank in Oswestry and Shrewsbury in February 2022 where the police "were happy to leave the scene and check back later."

He denied that the purpose of the protest was directed at customers of the branch. It was, he said because "Barclays is investing in fossil fuels and leading us to catastrophic climate breakdown."

Mr Russell said he had been surprised by the actions of Inspector Gareth Childs, who was called to the bank and gave protestors a deadline of 2.30pm to leave the premises.

"I felt we had not crossed the threshold and was disappointed with the way he was policing and was over-reacting in some ways," he said.

"We weren't intending on disrupting a bank's lawful business."

The protest, he said, was silent, peaceful, and non violent and he did not see any customers being deterred from using the bank.

Retired Pamela Williams, 74, of Van, in Powys, called the protest a "vigil" because it was silent. She has been with XR since 2018 and had been carrying a placard saying the bank causes ecological collapse.

Another group had organised a protest outside the branch in the St David's Way area of the city. It had involved noise and people dressed as corpses, but Ms Williams said they were not a part of that protest.

She said they took up a "tiny" area of the bank which was very busy at the time.

Ms Williams and the other defendants denied that they had deflected branch manager Donna Poffley from her business when she came to speak to each of them.

"It was a small part of her day," she said.

The defendants were asked why they did not move outside of the bank when asked to. Ms Williams said she believed that they faced arrest whether they stayed in the bank or went outside.

"We were offered options which appeared to have similar outcomes," she said.

Sarah Wilding, 55, of High Street, Aberystwysth, said: "I did not anticipate that the bank would have to close."

During Monday's proceedings, technically a magistrates hearing before a district judge, the court was told that a seventh protestor, Mark Stokes, 62, of Lorne Street, Oswestry, had already appeared before courts over the incident.

The court has heard from Donna Poffley, the branch manager who said she and four other colleagues at the branch were on a Teams meeting when the protestors entered the bank.

She told the court: "I came straight downstairs in the lift down to the banking hall. I saw seven protestors, four men and three women, chained to each other and chained to a fixed stand in the bank that could not be moved from its location."

She said the protestors were standing in the window of the bank in the branch's customer waiting area, displaying placards to passers-by outside and the chain was along the floor, which she said was a "health and safety risk".

The court was told that another protest was being conducted outside the branch, where protestors were lying before the entrance pretending to be corpses, although Ms Poffley conceded that the defendants in court were not part of that action, which in itself was not in breach of the law being as it was conducted in a public area outside.

Ms Poffley continued: "I serve about 300 customers a day that enter my business, and we are in a cost of living crisis and customers need us more than they have ever done before.

"By closing before 1.30pm, it meant customers could not come and see us about their finances. And I had to cancel two appointments that afternoon."

She added that after contacting the police, she and a senior police officer asked the protestors more than once to leave the branch.

"I said to them would you please leave the building you are not welcome. They did not leave," she said.

The police then asked her to close the branch just after 1pm so the protestors inside the could be dealt with.

"Speaking to the senior police officer, he asked would I be happy to close the branch," she said.

"Because it was not a nice environment outside and I wanted to make sure my staff would be safe when they left the branch, I made that decision to close."

The court also heard from Inspector Gareth Childs, who said he gave the protestors a warning to leave the branch, before they were finally arrested that afternoon.

In a statement read out in court, he said: "After a period of time I individually made an appeal for them to leave the premises and leave peacefully by 2.40pm.

The hearing continues.

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