Climate protesters found guilty of causing criminal damage to Constable's Hay Wain

Just Stop Oil protesters caused £1,000 worth of damage to painting

Climate protesters Hannah Hunt and Eden Lazarus arrive at Westminster Magistrates' Court in central London. PA
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Two climate protesters in the UK who glued their hands to John Constable’s painting The Hay Wain have been found guilty of causing criminal damage.

Hannah Hunt, 23, and Eben Lazarus, 22, taped printed posters on to the painting in the National Gallery before gluing their hands to its frame on July 4.

Their actions were associated with climate campaign group Just Stop Oil.

The Hay Wain, which was painted in 1821, depicts a rural Suffolk scene of a wagon returning to the fields across a shallow ford.

Hunt and Lazarus, both of High Street, Trowbridge, Wiltshire, were each convicted by a district judge of causing criminal damage. They will be sentenced at a future date.

In July, the pair entered the gallery with three others who distracted security officers so that they could tape three printed posters of a “dystopian version of Constable’s painting” on to the canvas.

They then glued their hands to the frame before delivering a short speech to people in the gallery.

Police arrived and arrested them after security ushered members of the public out.

The painting restored at the cost of £1,081 ($1,200) and fitted with a glass sheet before it was re-exhibited the next morning.

The pair argued that Articles 10 and 11 under the European Convention of Human Rights — the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly respectively — protected their actions, but this was rejected.

District Judge Daniel Sternberg said the damage caused was “significant, not trivial” and that the defendants “were reckless” and caused it “without lawful excuse”.

The Just Stop Oil climate group said it was behind the protest at London's National Gallery. PA

Giving evidence during the trial, both defendants claimed they made “a deliberate effort” to avoid damaging Constable’s painting.

They said they enlisted advice from an “art expert” who told them that “low tack tape” and a small amount of glue would not cause damage to the painting or its frame, respectively.

Hunt added that their actions might actually increase the value of the painting, citing an £8 million surge to the value of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers after a different protest.

The court heard earlier that The Hay Wain was not affected itself but the varnish on top and the surrounding frame suffered damage.

Both protesters said they performed the action to “raise awareness” of the “severity” of the climate crisis.

Lazarus told the court that their protest received “huge” media attention.

“People need to hear a fire alarm,” Hunt said.

She added that she also aimed to “inspire others”, claiming that she “brought hope” to a group of schoolchildren who clapped and cheered in the gallery at the end of her public address.

Both protesters insisted that they had tried other methods of campaigning for their cause but with “little impact”.

The court also heard the pair engaged in non-violence training to ensure the protest was peaceful.

Hunt said she had learnt from previous arrests protesting at an oil terminal site and outside of the British Parliament that those areas were “too disruptive to the public” and chose the National Gallery because it would not affect traffic or people getting to work.

Updated: December 06, 2022, 3:46 PM