Greenpeace activists on trial over protest that blocked tanker of Russian diesel

Greenpeace activists (left to right) Lyndall Stein, Mike Grant, Ben Hearne-Salter, Henry Rayner, David James, Rhiannon Wood, Kim Harrison, Benji Bailes, Ian Mills and Zoe Pontida outside Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court, Essex before their trial for blocking a jetty at Navigator oil terminal in Grays, Essex. (Greenpeace/ PA) (PA Media)
Greenpeace activists (left to right) Lyndall Stein, Mike Grant, Ben Hearne-Salter, Henry Rayner, David James, Rhiannon Wood, Kim Harrison, Benji Bailes, Ian Mills and Zoe Pontida outside Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court, Essex before their trial for blocking a jetty at Navigator oil terminal in Grays, Essex. (Greenpeace/ PA) (PA Media)

Ten Greenpeace activists who blocked a jetty at an oil terminal, forcing a tanker carrying Russian diesel to U-turn, will claim in court that their actions were lawful as they were “preventing a crime”.

The defendants, aged between 27 and 72, have gone on trial at Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court.

Monali Ralerasker, prosecuting, said the operations manager of Navigator Terminals in Grays, Essex, was made aware that protesters had breached the jetty at around 11.10pm on May 15 this year.

“They had gained access from the riverside by dinghy boats,” the lawyer said.

She said the jetty is “important” to the terminal’s infrastructure as it is “used for large tankers to dock”.

Activists attached themselves to the structure and displayed a banner that said “oil fuels war”.

Ms Ralerasker said a vessel due to dock on May 16 was turned around in the River Thames.

“The Port of London Authority made the decision to turn the ship around and return her to anchorage so no fuel was discharged,” she said.

The protesters were later arrested and taken into custody in Colchester.

Describing what the issue in the case would be, Ms Ralerasker said: “What they say is they were acting in an honest belief that they were preventing a crime being committed here.”

In a TikTok video played in court, a protester at the site said: “We’re sending a message to the UK Government to stop importing Russian oil.

“We’re here to stop a ship carrying Russian oil from docking here in the UK.”

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.

“Our aim was to really highlight what I would call state-level hypocrisy that was hiding in plain sight.”

He said that he is in the Greenpeace climb team and they targeted the Andromeda tanker, which was “Greek-flagged and it was carrying Russian oil”.

Grant said his background was “ex-military” and he had more than 25 years’ service in the Parachute Regiment and was a lieutenant colonel.

“I’ve been in multiple high-risk situations and I thought I had some skills to bear,” he said.

Asked by Henry Blaxand KC, defending, if he had considered what else he could have done, Grant said: “I’ve written many letters in my time, signed hundreds of petitions, been on multiple marches.

“These things don’t have an immediate impact and time is a factor.”

He said it was two months into the invasion of Ukraine at the time and he equated the number of deaths to the “equivalent of a Manchester Arena bombing every day”.

“We didn’t have time to take the usual routes,” he said.

He continued: “If I walked into a police station and raised the issue of imports of oil being used to fund effective war crimes in Ukraine I think you know what would have happened – I would have been dismissed as a crank.”

The 10 defendants deny a single charge of obstructing or disrupting a person engaged in a lawful activity under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

It is said they trespassed on land at Navigator Terminals and blocked the jetty, obstructing or disrupting “a lawful activity, namely fuel distribution”.

The defendants are: 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.

The trial, being heard before district judge Christopher Williams and due to last two days, continues.