Today six people were due to go on trial for having ‘considered’ taking part in the direct action which would shut down Ratcliffe-on-Soar’s coal-fired power station in April 2009. This morning, we’ve been told that the trial at Nottingham Crown Court will collapse before it even gets started. Activists exposed that an undercover cop had been spying on them for seven years. And not only spying, but that he had been involved in planning the proposed power station shut down. Last week 18 activists pre-emptively arrested on the eve of the action, were sentenced. Here, one of the defendants Chris Kitchen, gives us his story.
“114 people were gathered in Iona school in Nottingham on 14 April, 2009. In a matter of hours Ratcliffe on Soar power station was to be occupied and safely shut down for a week. It was an audacious plan and not surprisingly tensions were high. A few of us were making final preparations, some were scattered around trying to grab some sleep before we set off. The next thing I remember was someone saying something about the police being outside…
Moments later we were all being handcuffed and carted off to various police stations in and around Nottinghamshire. By preemptively arresting all of 114 of us the police were seeking to achieve the maximum impact. As we later found out in court they knew about the plan well in advance and deliberately chose to put the boot in. There was even an undercover cop in our midst. In my opinion these actions amount to political policing. Months later most charges were dropped, but 26 of us were accused of conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass.
In the first trial 20 of us used a necessity defence, where you basically say that you were preventing a more serious crime from taking place. The six who were due to be tried today argued that they hadn’t decided whether they were going to take part, and were essentially being tried for thinking about taking action. We have just heard that the Crown Prosecution Service has decided not to go ahead with the second trial . This is fantastic news, hopefully the police will now think twice about using such repressive tactics in future.
Preparing for and going through the first trial was a long process, at times its was pretty tough. There were ups: being allowed to run our defence, unlike the Drax coal train trial ; Some amazing support from people in Nottingham, the UK and around the world (even some embarrassingly complementary comments from the judge in his summing up and sentencing ). And there were downs, getting busted in the first place wasn’t so great, and being found guilty really could have gone better.
We gave it a pretty good shot though. We had world leading experts on climate science and impacts , we had an MP via video link from Westminster and even the ex- local MP both talking about the government’s inability to deal with climate change. So why, you might ask, did the jury come to a unanimous decision against us? Well we will never really know what happened in the jury’s deliberations, so too much speculation is not useful. The fact that the weather at the time was more typical of Greenland than Nottingham probably didn’t help, despite hearing from the experts about the difference between climate and weather, and how the recent extreme winters may even have been due to climate change .
Its also true that the public debate on climate change has taken a bit of a battering recently, and this could have had an effect. The current mood is partly due to vested interests aggressively pushing denialism and ignorance, partly due to the economic crisis drawing attention away from other issues, and partly the mass media seeing climate change as an old story  . However the verdict shouldn’t be seen as a direct reflection of public understanding of climate change or the validity of direct action. There’s a good chance that twelve randomly selected people will be, well, fairly random. They were also being asked to decide on something quite specific: was stopping the emissions from Ratcliffe on Soar for that week our primary motivation? and were our actions reasonable given the circumstances?
Another thing to bear in mind is that if you are trying to change the direction of society, its not surprising that not every-one’s going to agree with you at first. I imagine the Suffragettes had some pretty unfavourable juries. This doesn’t mean you should ignore public opinion, ultimately its only through people (‘the public’) that you are going to achieve change. But its through the power of your ideas and your ability to communicate them that you create real change, not by aligning your messages to fit with currently popular opinions.
Some might see our trial result as another sign of us losing ground, a fitting end to a disappointing year. I don’t see it that way and I’m excited by all the potential in 2011 and beyond. The growing anti-cuts movement is beginning to open some cracks in the apathy and acceptance of the status-quo we have seen dominate in recent years. Similar things are happening elsewhere as the ripples from the economic crisis reverberate around the world. Climate change is ultimately a political issue, not a technical or scientific one. It’s hard to get people excited about methane and insulation, but you can really get some interest when you start talking about climate justice, about the root causes of climate change, the links to the economic crisis, about being part of a global movement for a safer, fairer, happier world.
So what advice can I give to those considering direct action on climate change? well I’d encourage you to consider the legal implications. For example, if arrested and charged how will you plead? if pleading not guilty, then what is your defence? what are you trying to get out of the legal process? do you want to get off even? Personally I think the reason for us getting lenient sentences, the tacit agreement between courts and protesters as outlined by lord Hoffman in his ruling on the Jones case is 2006 , is detrimental to our movement, but sadly there’s not space to write about it here.
There are a lot of things to consider, and its a good idea to think things through and be prepared before taking action. But I don’t want to put anyone off. After all, we are at a turning point in history. It’s NOT too late, and our actions in the coming years and decades may come to define humanity in the future. Sometimes, after all the considerations, you have to just do it!
 See paragraph 89, Judgments – R v. Jones. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200506/ldjudgmt/jd060329/jones-4.htm.parliament.uk/pa/ld200506/ldjudgmt/jd060329/jones-4.htm