Greenpeace activists who forced a tanker carrying Russian diesel to turn around have been cleared of aggravated trespass, with a judge saying Russia’s war in Ukraine “could be described as terrorism”. The ten defendants, aged between 27 and 72, successfully claimed they were “preventing a crime” by occupying a jetty at Navigator Terminals in Grays, Essex, preventing the vessel, the Andromeda, from unloading 33,000 tonnes of diesel.
District judge Christopher Williams, who returned his judgment at Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court on Friday, said: “I take the view it’s more than likely the Russian war could be described as terrorism.”
All 10 denied, and were each cleared of, a single charge of obstructing or disrupting a person engaged in a lawful activity under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.
They were accused of trespassed on land at Navigator Terminals and blocked the jetty, obstructing or disrupting “a lawful activity, namely fuel distribution”.
Henry Blaxand KC, defending, questioned whether the unloading of the Russian diesel was lawful activity, and the judge said “in my view the unloading of the oil was the potential offence”.
The protesters broke out into applause and there were cheers as the judge found each of them not guilty.
Prosecutor Monali Ralerasker had argued the case did not “require an analysis of what’s morally right and what’s morally wrong”.
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The Andromeda tanker, which was Greek-flagged and carrying Russian oil, was turned around in the Thames in the early hours of May 16.
One of the activists who scaled the jetty, former lieutenant colonel Michael Grant, 62, told the court: “The purpose of the action was to draw attention to the fact that fossil fuels were being imported and thereby funding Putin’s war.”
Speaking afterwards, Mr Grant, 62, said: “This is a fantastic result. This verdict is not just a relief for us but a complete vindication of the ethical beliefs that led us to act.”
“I’ve been in the military for a quarter of a century and I’m not easily shocked. But the sheer horror unleashed by Putin’s army in Ukraine still haunts me now as it did when the war started.”
He added: “Entire towns reduced to rubble, thousands of people lying dead or wounded – not to mention the mass graves and war crimes.
“I just couldn’t believe that all this devastation was partly funded by Russian oil being imported into the UK. How on earth was that allowed to happen?
“We couldn’t just stand by and watch – we had to do something about it. I hope this will inspire other people to make a stand.”
Another defendant, Zoe Pontida, 32, a teacher from Oxford, added: “This is a seismic verdict. It doesn’t just fully vindicate our action, it also puts the UK government squarely in the dock.
“The judge has recognised that we are just ordinary people whose conscience compelled us to stop the oil funding Putin’s campaign of state terrorism in Ukraine.
“With every new town flattened by bombs and every new war crime being uncovered, the reason for stopping the flow of money to the Kremlin’s death machine has grown stronger.
“We did what the UK government should have done months ago but failed to do. The very least ministers should do now is to bring forward the ban on Russian oil imports, extend it to all Russian fossil fuels, and make sure the UK is no way involved in funding Putin’s terror in Ukraine.”
The defendants were: Benji Bailes, 38, of Gloucester; Michael Grant, 62, of Rosewell, Midlothian; Kim Harrison, 38, of Oldham, Greater Manchester; Benjamin Hearne-Salter, 41, of Kashmir Road, south London; David James, 62, of Bromfelde Road, south London; Ian Mills, 56, of Chippenham, Wiltshire; Zoe Pontida, 32, of Oxford; Henry Rayner, 28, of Ivanhoe Road, south London; Lyndall Stein, 72, of Surrey Row, south London; Rhiannon Wood, 27, of Hedge End, near Southampton, Hampshire.