The trial of six Extinction Rebellion (XR) activists for spraying fake blood from a fire engine over the Treasury has begun. The spectacle, which made front pages around the world, drew attention to the Treasury’s funding of new fossil fuel projects abroad which would result in deaths from climate breakdown. However, now the activists involved could face prison sentences of up to 10 years.
XR: dousing the Treasury in fake blood
Back in 2019, XR organised the stunt outside the Treasury. It saw activists turn up with a fire engine and douse the building in fake red blood:
During the action, people held up banners reading “STOP FUNDING CLIMATE DEATH”:
They also stencilled the phrase on the Treasury building’s walls:
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At the time, the cops’ response was brisk. They arrested eight people:
Six activists in the dock
Now, six activists are on trial at Southwark Crown Court for conspiracy to commit criminal damage. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is claiming clean-up costs of £17,000, despite the activists using easily washable food dyes.
XR also has concerns about the outcome of the trail. It noted that some judges have started to use case law to restrict defences used by non-violent protesters. For example, XR says:
Three people have been sent to jail for contempt of court for mentioning the words “climate change” and “fuel poverty”.
The group claims these rulings make it difficult for defendants to present the motivations for their actions to a jury.
XR said in a press release that:
The protest was designed to spotlight the role of the Treasury in financing climate breakdown in the wake of the parliamentary Environment Audit Committee’s revelation that the Treasury was allowing the UK Export Finance (UKEF) department to underwrite new fossil fuel projects abroad with billions of pounds of public money.
In 2018-2019 UKEF support for fossil fuel projects increased eleven-fold in one year to £2 billion. And from 2013/14 to 2017/18 UKEF spent £2.6 billion on such projects. This support has enabled projects worth many more times this amount get off the ground, locking low-income countries into high-carbon pathways and debt.
Funding projects that will kill the global community’s aspiration of keeping temperature rises below a global average of 1.5C means the Treasury is implicated in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and the wrecking of our children’s future.
‘Is this trial really in the public interest?’
The defendants face sentences of up to ten years in prison each if they are found guilty by the jury. The trail is expected to last four weeks.
One of the defendants questioned whether the whole process is in the public interest. Cathy Eastburn is a musician from South London who took part in the 2019 action. She said in a press release:
I’m proud to have taken part in this powerfully symbolic and memorable action, which shone a spotlight on the Treasury’s financing of fossil fuel projects around the world. I took this action because I want to ensure a liveable future for my children and children everywhere. Four years on, we face trial and possibly prison for this necessary, appropriate and proportionate action. Is this trial really in the public interest? How about prosecuting the real criminals: those who are continuing to invest millions in new fossil fuel projects, knowing full well this ties us all into a future of accelerating climate breakdown and societal collapse?
‘Still funding climate death’
Eastburn’s words on the urgency of the situation are certainly more relevant that they were even in 2019. Away from the trial, XR is claiming the government hasn’t done enough to change the situation. It said:
the Treasury is still funding climate death
XR noted that, in December 2020, the government ended all financial support for overseas fossil fuel projects. However, it pointed out that:
UKEF [UK Export Finance] continue to underwrite aviation projects with £8.3bn of public money in the year ending 2021, £2 billion in year-end 2022, and a total of £18 billion since the Paris Agreement. This will lock countries into high-carbon pathways for decades to come.
It also said:
This partial course correction has not been mirrored domestically where the Treasury walks hand in hand with the Prime Minister in supporting new oil and gas developments in the North Sea. These projects are incompatible with keeping global average temperature rise to below 1.5C.
In May 2021 the treasury introduced tax relief for new oil and gas developments of 91p in the pound. This tax relief was estimated to amount to £11.4bn in subsidies over five years.
In particular, XR noted UK projects like the planned development of the Rosebank oil and gas field in the North Sea. Campaigners have claimed that, if developed, it will generate more lifetime carbon emissions than the annual CO² output of the 28 lowest-income countries combined. This comes on top of the UK government approving a new coal mine in Whitehaven – which again, critics have condemned.
Moreover, XR also stated that:
New research shows the UK is one of the five top countries responsible for the majority of planned expansion of new oil and gas fields through 2050. These countries also have “the greatest economic means and moral responsibility to rapidly phase out production”.
The group claims that all of this would “kill the global community’s aspiration” of limiting global warming to 1.5°c, and that the Treasury would be implicated in countless deaths and “the wrecking of our children’s future”.
Featured image and additional images via Extinction RebellionSupport us and go ad-free
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