Kingsnorth trial day two

Posted by bex — 2 September 2008 at 10:05pm - Comments
Ben StewartDefendent Ben Stewart

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It's hard to say whether there were more or fewer nerves on the way to court today. On the one hand all the defendants now feel - visibly - more comfortable with the court surroundings than they were at the start of the proceedings yesterday.

On the other hand, today was the day some of them were going to take the stand for the first time. Either way, listening to the Star Wars theme tune blaring over the radio as we made our way to Maidstone in the minibus could only be a good thing for morale.

We filed into the court room at around 11am. By 11.30 - after circulating some documents to the jurors - the prosecution had closed; it was the turn of the defence.

The defendant's QC, Michael Wolkind, is a pleasure to watch at work. He started by introducing six "of the nicest people... accused of saving the planet". By midday, he'd introduced Greenpeace, climate change and the extent of Kingsnorth's emissions, explained some of the impacts climate change is having worldwide, announced four of the expert witnesses (Professor Jim Hansen - Al Gore's science adviser and the world's leading climate scientist, Zac Goldsmith, Professor Meaden and Jennifer Morgan), worked in a Sesame Street reference (Jim Hansen-related, obviously) and used no less than three Frank Zappa quotes to support his case.

From just after midday, Greenpeace defendants and witnesses took the stand. First was Ben Stewart (defendant), a video of whom had already been played to the jury. He was followed by Greenpeace executive director John Sauven (witness) and then by Tim Hewke (defendant).

To save your reading (and my typing), I'll stick to Ben's testimony. When questioned about his motives for taking direct action, Ben explained that half of the man-made emissions in the atmosphere come from coal. According to scientists, he said, now is the critical time. "We've got 100 months to do something about it."

His personal encounters with Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Bill Clinton, Ben said, hadn't done much to persuade him that the UK's politicians were taking the "climate emergency" in any way seriously, despite their rhetoric.

"Climate change," he said, "is the biggest thing that's ever happened to humanity - I'm not going to sit on the sofa."

During the evidence on climate change impacts - when both defendants explained what had motivated them to act - I did find myself wondering what the jurors were thinking. Working for Greenpeace, or reading particular newspapers and scientific magazines, you're exposed to the news of fresh climate change impacts every day. At least, it feels depressingly like it's every day.

If you've never really stopped to consider the melting of ice caps and glaciers, the impacts on lives and livelihoods around the world, the extinction of species as a result of manmade actions like burning coal, what must it feel like to be suddenly exposed to the information? I've no idea what the jurors were thinking - but they were certainly rapt by the defendants' statements.

The cross-examination from the prosecution tended to focus on whether or not the defendants' actions had a 'lawful excuse' (explained here). As the prosecution isn't challenging the science of climate change and its impacts, the questions were aimed at establishing whether the painting of Kingsnorth's chimney contributed to preventing emissions, and whether the defendants had any other recourse to action.

Tomorrow, Professor Jim Hansen takes the stand - and we'll be hearing more from the defendants. As usual, you can follow the latest on our blog or on Twitter (where we'll also be breaking the verdict immediately after it happens).

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