Judge 'carefully considering' judgement on Shropshire eco activists' bank protest
A judge is taking his time before reaching an important judgment on environmental campaigners from Shropshire who chained themselves up inside a branch of Barclays Bank.
Four activists from the county 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 the bank during a 'Day of Action' on November 14, magistrates have heard.
They were charged with aggravated trespass which barristers for the defence and prosecution say needs evidence that the group went into the bank intending to disrupt its lawful business.
Defendants Michael Bastow, 63, of Victoria Road, Oswestry; Jamie Russell, 48, of Well Meadow Drive, Shrewsbury; Dougall Purce, 59, of North Street, Shrewsbury; Christine Welch, 69, of Church Street, Broseley; Sarah Wilding, 55, of High Street, Aberwysth; and Pamela Williams, 74, of Van, in Powys, all deny the charge.
Barrister Sian Cutter, prosecuting, in her closing speech to magistrates sitting at Cardiff Crown Court on Wednesday morning, told district judge David Webster that intent was proven by a number of separate acts inside the bank. She said they had selected a customer waiting area, had moved a chair and had left the chain lying across the path of customers.
Ms Cutter claimed that some of the evidence given by Christine Welch, who had been speaking without a legal representative, had admitted pushing a chair away from where it was.
The protestors carried placards and had slogans on their clothing which Ms Cutter said could have deterred customers from using the branch or changing their minds about banking with Barclays. This also proved "intention to disrupt".
They had also remained in the bank despite requests to leave, she said.
"Remaining is surely indicative that there was an intention to disrupt," she said. "It was made clear to them that the manager wanted them to leave. The decision to remain prolonged the closure and disruption.
"Their wish was to have much more of an effect than conveying a message to the public," Ms Cutter said.
"The court can conclude that they intended to disrupt the bank."
Christine Welch, from Broseley, took her right to make a closing speech for herself. She denied that her action in pushing away a chair was disruptive to the bank.
"Pushing the chair to the table was to allow things in the bank to continue as they had before," she said.
She added that going into a bank and protesting should not be a criminal act. She said they had not gone in to disrupt but to hold a peaceful protest and she had received training in non-violent direct action.
She added that some of the things she said were said the wrong way and she sought to correct them in the eyes of the judge, which he accepted as she is not a legal professional.
Eleanor De, defending, said the correct verdict should be "not guilty" because clear intent to disrupt had not been proven and the judge should decide on that "very narrow" issue.
Ms De also defended the right to protest, adding that four of the defendants have no previous convictions or warnings against their names.
"Each have explained that the bank's closure was not the anticipated outcome. None of them had the intention required," she said.
She added that the demo had been planned in advance not to be disruptive. It was peaceful and silent and she said no-one had spoken to the group before it was closed at 1.04pm.
Ms De added: "The point is simply this: the prosecution of offences of aggravated trespass constitutes an interference with the right to protest and freedom of expression.
"This is unsurprising, they are not unqualified rights. But as such, the legal justification has to be strictly and properly applied on the particular facts of each case.
"If anything less than a specific intention to impede the lawful activity of those on the land were enough to warrant a conviction, it is entirely arguable that the proportionality balance would be lost.
"So the recent developments really re-emphasise the centrality and importance of ensuring the court is sure that the specific intent the statute requires exists.
"It was plainly not the intention of any of them," she said. "The court cannot be sure they had that intention. The proper verdict to reach is not guilty."
Judge Webster said the case needed time for him to make a "careful consideration". He bailed the defendants to appear again at 2pm on Thursday when he would announce his judgement.