On 22 April, XR co-founder Simon Bramwell and six other rebels appeared at the Southwark Crown Court, charged with causing 25K worth of criminal damage to Shell’s London headquarters.
In a historic ruling, six of the defendants were found not guilty despite admitting to criminal damage, and the judge indicating that the law pointed to a guilty verdict. The seventh pleaded guilty only because, as a nursing mother, she could not bring her baby to court.
This is an abridged version of Simon Bramwell’s defence speech to the court.
I have made no effort to hide anything from the jury. I have fully disclosed, according to the path of my conscience and in a spirit of radical honesty, that I have been found guilty of breaching the law for this same vital cause before. We are hiding nothing here. We carried out our actions as our consciences and the immediate need dictated. We took full responsibility for those actions and we are willing to embrace the consequences.
We are not above the law but recognise that we are in a unique situation to which the law cannot respond coherently.
I have presented the evidence of my beliefs: beliefs that were underpinned by a wealth of experience and fact.
I have talked about Shell’s role in the sixth mass extinction and the climate and ecological emergency. And I have told you that as the 1988 Greenhouse Report shows, Shell have known for more than 30 years that the result of their industry carried significant risk of harm to the fundamental wellbeing of this planet. And yet they did nothing to avert that harm. Instead, they have spent millions obstructing legislation to repair harm, all the while spreading misinformation and climate denial.
I have also said that it’s ordinary people who bear the brunt of funding fossil fuel subsidies. In this country alone we stump up for 8 billion a year in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry which has done nothing to mitigate the immense harm it’s helped unleash. Like it or not, taxpayers are contributing to unfolding death and destruction.
I’ve stated that it’s the ordinary people and the poor of this world who will continue to bear the brunt of the oncoming catastrophe that Shell’s forced upon us, economically and with regard to the worst impacts of climate change.
But I’ve also mentioned that this is not just about climate change: that Shell produces millions of tonnes of plastics that end up in our food chains and ecosystems. I’ve told you how the River Thames that flows outside the courtroom – just a stone’s throw away – is one of the most micro-plastic-polluted rivers in the world, with an estimated 94000 particles flowing by every second. Every second. And I asked the jury to consider how many seconds we’ve sat here so far, while those particles keep flowing and ending up in our food chains, in our water cycles.
I have also mentioned Client Earth, which took our government to court over the illegally high air pollution that kills tens of thousands of British citizens each year. Client Earth held the government accountable for its inaction. It took it to court three times. And each time our government lost.
That was a major motivator for me.
The government also spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer’s money losing those cases. What else is available for us as a means to stop harm when the government wastes taxpayers money on cases that prove its own negligence?
This demonstrated to me the failures of government, and of our state. The government is not protecting its citizens. This negligence is costing our lives, the lives of our children and millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money. But this cost will be dwarfed by orders of magnitude by climate breakdown.
The prosecution’s speech referred to the pandemic. I know we’ve all had a very difficult year that’s cost us all personally in different ways. But what is coming in terms of catastrophe will dwarf the pandemic like an iceberg dwarfs a pea.
I’ve spoken of my role in Extinction Rebellion: of how we realised the failures of 30 years of conventional campaigning had led to nothing; how we’d exhausted all available means before setting out on our present path.
The prosecution told us we should become politicians. We don’t have time. It’s run out. Time is a luxury we don’t have. Our state has been malfunctioning for 30 years because of the undue influence of the oil industry, amongst other players.
I’ve talked about the role of civil disobedience in history, and how it has helped change the course of nations. We chose our methods in Extinction Rebellion with great care, consideration and logic in relation to what we could do with the time we have left, having exhausted all other avenues. We did that knowing we would come up against the laws of the land. We knew we would end up in front of a jury of our peers to be tried. I don’t want to be here. I don’t enjoy doing this. But my conscience demands it.
The judge – in his wisdom and experience – can only rule that we have no defence under the law.
We have no defence under the law.
That is clear.
Just like Rosa Parks, who sat in the whites-only section of a bus: no defence under the law.
Just like those who hid Jews from the authorities in Nazi Germany: no defence under the law.
Just like those who joined the Kinder Mass Trespass to gain our right to roam: no defence under the law.
Just like the hundreds of suffragettes who were imprisoned campaigning for the vote: no defence under the law.
The prosecution says that we think we are above the law. But there would be no female jury members sitting here, and no female barristers, if people hadn’t taken action.
We are here before you now submitting to the law, not thinking ourselves above it.
This past two weeks has felt to me like that scene in the film Titanic, where we’ve hit the iceberg and those on the lower decks are seeing the water coming in.
All the people on the lower decks are trying to get to the upper decks, but they can’t get out.
There’s a barrier in the way.
We are trying to break out but there’s a purser there, just doing his job: just doing what the captain told him.
The purser’s telling them to go back down. To wait.
That is where we are now.
We just want to get to the lifeboats. We just want to get our children to the lifeboats.
You have a really hard job to do here. The crux of the situation is that according to the ‘black letter of the law’ you must find us guilty. That there’s no defence for what we did. The crux of the situation is that the black letter of the law cannot cope with the magnitude of the emergency ahead of us.
I am proud to stand here in front of you, and to trust to your judgement.
We only have one home, one planet and one chance of making this right.
Call to Action: Please support https://www.righttoroam.org.uk/
Simon Bramwell has been a co founder of Rising Up and Extinction Rebellion, he’d much prefer being a bushcraft instructor again to getting arrested yet knows the fight for Nature comes first.