UK climate change protesters fear prison but say their actions were 'worth the risk'

Seven women found guilty of criminal damage this week will be sentenced in January

Extinction Rebellion co-founder Gail Bradbrook said if a prison term 'needs to happen, it needs to happen'. Getty
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Climate change protesters involved in a direct action campaign in London and now facing possible prison sentences for criminal damage have said they are scared of going to jail.

But Gail Bradbrook, co-founder of protest group Extinction Rebellion, who is awaiting trial on charges related to windows being broken said the prospect is “worth the risk”. The number of prosecutions has increased markedly after the government reminder police forces that the laws exist to prevent large scale disruption from the largely middle class protest movement.

She said she fears going to jail, but does not regret taking part in protests. “It does scare me but it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t do it, just to be clear,” said Ms Bradbrook.

Many of the group’s members — seven were found guilty on Monday of causing almost £100,000 in damage to glass panels at Barclays headquarters in April 2021 — are “resigned” to going to prison.

Zoe Cohen, 52, was found guilty on Monday, alongside Carol Wood, 53, Nicola Stickells, 52, Sophie Cowen, 31, Lucy Porter, 48, Gabriella Ditton, 28, and Rosemary Webster, 64, following a trial at Southwark Crown Court.

Cohen told The National the group broke the glass because “the biosphere was dying and it still is”. As for the threat of a prison term, she said: “If it needs to happen, it needs to happen.”

The group was told to expect sentences ranging from community orders up to 18 months in prison. Judge Milne KC said “all options” have to be considered before adjourning the sentencing to January 27 next year at the same court.

“I quickly organised an online meeting where some of us just got together for a cry,” Ms Bradbrook, who did not take part in that protest, but has participated in other similar acts, told The National.

“There are different sides to any of us. There is the side that stands in the spirit of the sacred warrior and there is the side of us which is really upset and worried about losing our freedom and being seen as criminals when of course none of us are going to go breaking windows for no reason.

“We know that’s how we got the vote. That’s what it took.”

Ms Bradbrook said it is possible the judge will issue a harsher sentence “to put other people off”.

“They want to sort of send a message but the thing is many of us are resigned to going to jail.”

The Barclays protest — in pictures

During the trial at Southwark Crown Court, the group argued that Barclays staff would have consented to the damage if they were fully informed about the climate crisis.

The prosecutor insisted this was not true during her closing speech.

She added they were “doing it to impose their views and to force change” and because they “believe themselves to be above the law”.

Ms Cohen said she broke the glass “because it was the right thing to do”.

“And because I have a moral obligation as a human, a woman and a mother to do these things. It’s a moral obligation when you understand the scale of the horror that’s already been caused by banks like Barclays and the entire political economy they are part of,” she said.

“When you connect with that reality it’s a moral obligation to try to call it out and to try to get those people to make different decisions.”

“We have the rights we have from women being able to vote, civil rights, gay marriage etc, we have those because people before us have engaged in direct action and civil resistance.

“Over 1,000 suffragettes went to prison in this country and a lot of people don’t realise that — just for trying to get a voice in a democracy.”

Updated: December 10, 2022, 5:00 AM
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