A district judge has thrown out a public order charge against climate campaigner Greta Thunberg after police attempted to impose “unlawful” conditions during an environment protest.
The 21-year-old, from Sweden, was arrested during a demonstration near the InterContinental Hotel in Mayfair, London, on October 17 as oil executives met inside for a conference.
Miss Thunberg pleaded not guilty to breaching Section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986 alongside two Fossil Free London (FFL) protesters and two Greenpeace activists.
At Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Friday, District Judge John Law said conditions imposed on protesters were “so unclear that it is unlawful” which meant “anyone failing to comply were actually committing no offence”.
A large number of protesters who watched proceedings from the public gallery cheered and applauded as the judge acquitted all five defendants.
Miss Thunberg and fellow protesters were accused of not complying with an order which told demonstrators to move away from the oil and gas conference and to a designated area nearby.
The judge said the protest was “throughout peaceful, civilised and non-violent” and criticised evidence provided by the prosecution about the location of where the demonstrators should be moved to – saying the only helpful footage he received was “made by an abseiling protester”.
Ruling there was no case to answer for each defendant, he added: “It is quite striking to me that there were no witness statements taken from anyone in the hotel, approximately 1,000 people, or from anyone trying to get in.
“There was no evidence of any vehicles being impeded, no evidence of any interference with emergency services, or any risk to life.”
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 the prosecution alleged had been made “impossible”.
The judge rejected the submission as “the main entrance was accessible (meaning) that the condition… was unnecessary when the defendants were arrested”.
The prosecution previously told the court 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.
Footage was played to the court in which Miss Thunberg said “I’m staying” when asked to move by police constable David Lawrence.
The climate campaigner could be seen laughing while footage of her being escorted away was played.
Judge Law said the senior investigating officer for the protest, Superintendent Matthew Cox, had admitted that “less restrictive (measures) were available” to police managing the demonstration.
Speaking after the hearing, Miss Thunberg’s lawyer, Raj Chada, told reporters: “The charges against them were rightly dismissed.
“The conditions imposed on the protest were unclear, uncertain and unlawful.
“They were unlawful because they disproportionately interfered with our client’s right to free speech.
“The Government should stop prosecuting peaceful protesters and instead find ways to tackle the climate crisis.”
He said “we will look into all options” when asked whether civil action would be taken against those who prosecuted the case.