Public figures from across the arts, climate science, the economy, faith, and more have signed an open letter in support of nine Extinction Rebellion activists who were acquitted last week for breaking windows at HSBC’s HQ in Canary Wharf in 2021. The signatories are calling for the bank to be held accountable for their enormous fossil fuel investments: over £80bn pounds in the five years after the Paris Climate Agreement was signed.
HSBC: party to a “collective act of madness”
The signatories include:
- Actors Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry, Juliet Stevenson, Steven McBurney, and Sir Mark Rylance.
- Former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams.
- Granddaughter of Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst Helen Pankhurst.
- Former Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Government Sir David King.
- Academy award winning film directors Adam MaKay and Andrea Arnold.
- Comedians Nish Kumar, Stewart Lee, Frankie Boyle, and Rosie Holt.
- Climate scientists professor James Hansen and Wolfgang Knorr.
- Authors Ben Okri, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Monique Roffey.
- Musicians and artists Thom Yorke, Es Devlin, Peter Gabriel, Brian Eno, and Love Ssega.
- Fashion designer Bella Freud.
- Co-founder of Kickstarter Yancey Strickler.
- Economists Yanis Varoufakis, Kate Raworth, and Ann Pettifor.
- Former CEO of Greenpeace International and Secretary General of Amnesty International Kumi Naidoo.
The letter reads:
While we applaud the jury for recognising these women’s solid defence for taking such action and following their conscience, a collective act of madness is going unchecked both in the UK and across the globe. Those standing up in defence of life on Earth are being criminalised by the UK legal system, while our own government willingly continues to facilitate the destruction of our only home.
The world stands ablaze in front of us and still global powers choose to risk the death and displacement of billions in pursuit of uncurbed fossil fuel expansion. Yet, the world is in the ultimate crisis of accountability. As the case of these women shows, it is not illegal for banks such as HSBC to profit from destroying life on Earth. With billions invested in fossil fuels in the five years since the Paris Climate Agreement, we can’t help but wonder how many deaths these billions will have caused already? Why do such heinous crimes continue to go unpunished?
The UK justice system: rotten to the core
The three week trial concluded last Thursday when a jury of twelve concluded that the nine defendants were found unanimously not guilty after only two hours of deliberation. The legal defences of ‘necessity’, ‘protection of property’, and ‘belief in consent’ were all initially allowed by Judge Bartle, remaining in play until after the defence case had concluded and the women had given their evidence. The judge later ruled out all but ‘belief in consent’.
During the course of the trial, the women wore clothes given to them by celebrated British fashion designer Stella McCartney CBE, who designed the clothing for Team GB in the London 2012 Olympics – lending them shirts, blazers, and suits to wear during the trial.
The letter references climate protestors, Morgan Trowland and Marcus Dekker, currently serving the highest sentences seen in this country for nonviolent protest in modern times.
On Tuesday 21 November, a letter was made public from the UN to the UK government criticising the ‘severe’ sentences and warned that the new Public Order Act which came into force in July was inconsistent with international human rights law and is therefore undermining the civil society response to the climate crisis we desperately need, calling it a “direct attack on the right to the freedom of peaceful assembly”.
In a tweet responding to the UN letter, prime minister Rishi Sunak undermined the intervention letter by claiming that the government is on the side of working people. He said:
It’s entirely right that selfish protestors intent on causing misery to the hard-working majority face tough sentences. It’s what the public expects and it’s what we’ve delivered.
However, evidence shows that these extreme policy shifts are not being driven by ordinary people, but by shadowy lobbying groups such as Policy Exchange, and that when climate protestors are faced with the general public at jury trials such as the HSBC 9 trial, they are frequently being found not guilty.
‘We must urgently intervene’
One of the defendants, Eleanor (Gully) Bujak, 30, said in her closing arguments:
HSBC makes choices every day and they have the power to change those at any time, but first they need to know what’s happening. And so do we. Only then can we find the courage to do something about it.
You have heard that governments are doing nothing about this crisis and nothing to hold the banks accountable, and I told you in my evidence that we as ordinary citizens cannot afford to simply leave these businesses and institutions to their own devices – we must intervene, urgently, however we feel we can.
Because the truth is, it is not just this tiny handful of people who have any power to change things! They are not the only ones who can shape this world, or determine our future. There are moments in all our lives, when we find ourselves somewhere unexpected, when we have the opportunity to choose to do something extraordinary. And extraordinary things happen in court rooms.
The letter concludes:
Women throughout history have always gathered to resist in the name of life and love. Now, as money and power steer us on a path towards total climate and ecological collapse, protests like this are a rational response to the greatest crime humanity has ever faced. These women believed, as we do, that they are duty bound to resist a violent system that is risking the survival of everything we know and love.
It is now incumbent upon all good people of conscience to rise up as these women have, to pull together and find our collective power. We must all take the most effective action we can, find our courage and work in firm opposition to the dereliction of our only home.
We support all courageous and loving people who stand and fight for justice and the continuation of life on Earth. We will do everything we can to support them, and to play our part in building a new world where life is sacred.
Please donate to the HSBC 9 legal fund here.
Read the full letter here.
Featured image via Extinction Rebellion