Climate campaigner Greta Thunberg has defended climate activists facing prosecution, saying “we must remember who the real enemy is”, after the first day of her trial over an environmental protest.
The 21-year-old from Sweden was arrested during a demonstration near the InterContinental Hotel in Mayfair on October 17 last year as oil executives met inside for the Energy Intelligence Forum.
Thunberg, two Fossil Free London (FFL) protesters and two Greenpeace activists appeared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Thursday for trial after each pleading not guilty in November to breaching Section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986.
Outside court after the proceedings were adjourned for the day, Thunberg made a statement alongside some of her co-defendants in which she said: “Even though we are the ones standing here, climate, environmental and human rights activists all over the world are being prosecuted, sometimes convicted, and given… penalties for acting in line with science.
“We must remember who the real enemy is, what are we defending, who are our laws meant to protect.”
She added: “History’s judgement against those who deliberately destroy and sacrifice… resources at the expense of humanity, at the expense of all those who are suffering the consequences of the environmental and climate crisis… and at the expense of future generations, your own children and grandchildren will not be gentle.”
The court heard that protesters started to gather near the hotel in October last year at around 7.30am and police engaged with them about improving access for members of the public, which had been made “impossible”.
Prosecutor Luke Staton said a couple of protesters gained access to the roof just before 10.30am and “were slowly abseiling down the side of the building”.
The section 14 condition was imposed at around 12.30pm, which dictated that the protest could continue but on the pavement to the south of the hotel, the court heard.
It was said police found the move “necessary” to prevent disruption, as the “majority” of people inside the hotel could not leave and people could not get inside.
From 1pm, the court heard individual officers engaged with individual protesters and informed them of the section 14 condition.
Thunberg was stood outside the hotel entrance and was approached by police, informed of the condition and of the designated protest area, the court heard.
Mr Staton told the court that she was warned by one officer that her failure to comply would result in her arrest.
While that officer was elsewhere engaged, another officer then spoke with Thunberg and “gave her a final warning”, the prosecutor said.
“She said that she was staying where she was and so she was arrested,” Mr Staton said.
The other defendants were similarly informed of the section 14 condition and did not move to the designated protest area, the court heard.
Mr Staton said: “The Crown’s case is that all five of these defendants took part in a public assembly.
“They knew or ought to have known that a section 14 condition had been imposed and they all failed to comply with that condition.”
Thunberg made notes on and off during the proceedings.
She arrived at the court just after 9am and made her way past media and environmental protesters who were demonstrating “in solidarity” with the defendants, holding up large yellow banners that read “Climate protest is not a crime” and cardboard signs saying “Who are the real criminals?”
Wearing a grey jacket, Thunberg smiled at photographers before making her way inside.
Amnesty International UK’s chief executive, Sacha Deshmukh, said Thunberg should be “applauded for her peaceful climate protests”.
“The charges against Thunberg and all the activists highlight everything that’s wrong with the policing of protests in the UK today,” he said.
“Police are increasingly using their expanded powers to silence legitimate protests.”
The trial continues on Friday.