Just Stop Oil activists found guilty of criminal damage of Van Gogh painting

Just Stop Oil activists found guilty of criminal damage of Van Gogh painting

Two Just Stop Oil protesters have been found guilty of causing criminal damage to a Vincent Van Gogh painting’s frame after gluing themselves to it.

Louis McKechnie, 22, and Emily Brocklebank, 23, caused about £2,000 of damage to the frame of Peach Trees In Blossom at London’s Courtauld Gallery.

McKechnie was jailed for three weeks while Brocklebank received a suspended sentence at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday.

She had said: “I didn’t think I would cause much damage. Glue comes off.”

There have been several similar protests by climate activists in recent weeks.

District Judge Neeta Minhas said the damage caused at the gallery was “substantial”.

Giving her verdict, she said: “An 18th Century frame which is hundreds of years old has been permanently damaged.

“It is not in a state where it can return to its original state.”

She told the court that the painting had “significant, historical and art value” and the damage caused to its frame was “not minor, insignificant, temporary or trivial”.

Addressing the defendants, District Judge Minhas said: “I find you both guilty of criminal damage, having no lawful excuse to cause damage but you did so on a reckless basis.”

Jonathan Bryan, prosecuting, had told the court the activists used super glue to attach themselves to Van Gogh’s 1889 work Peach Trees In Blossom at the Courtauld Gallery, on the Strand, on June 30.

But Francesca Cociani, defending the pair at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday, questioned Karen Serres, a curator at the gallery.

 (PA)
(PA)

She said: “It’s possible that this very painting has now increased in value because of the protest it was subject to by the defendants.

“Say the institute was to sell it on in 20 to 30 years, is it possible its value would now increase?”

Ms Serres replied: “Absolutely not.”

The witness said she believes the painting cannot be sold.

CCTV footage showed the activists walking in the building at about 3.30pm after purchasing tickets for an exhibition.

They then took off their jackets to reveal orange Just Stop Oil T-shirts and attached themselves to the artwork.

Mr Bryan said: “They waited until the coast was clear, when the gallery attendants looked away or were perhaps distracted by another member of the group.”

The prosecutor said: “These actions did in fact cause criminal damage”.

He said the painting, which is worth “millions” was not damaged but the “valuable” frame was.

Mr Bryan added: “The defendants say they were expressing their rights, under the European convention… to freedom of expression… and of assembly.

“They say the exercise of those rights gives them a lawful excuse.

“But these are qualified rights, not absolute rights.”

Ms Serres told the court it took three hours for the activists to be removed, with the incident lasting until after closing time.

She said: “There were concerns over how much of the glue had seeped into the frame and the painting itself.”

When it comes to protesting, just speaking does not get a platform. By gluing, it gives a story which the media chooses to follow

Defendant Emily Brocklebank

There were also worries about the solvent used by police to remove the activists, the court heard.

Ms Serries said the frame, worth around £20,000, dates back to the 18th century.

She said: “There were large areas of glue left behind and areas of solvent which had seeped into the gilding of the frame.

“Parts of the frame had fallen off.”

Ms Serres said it took six hours for the painting to be removed from the frame and put back again.

Brocklebank, a student, told the court: “When it comes to protesting, just speaking does not get a platform.

“By gluing, it gives a story which the media chooses to follow.”

She added: “I didn’t think I would cause much damage. Glue comes off.”

The defendant said the painting’s owner would have “consented” to the protest.

She said: “Any good human would agree with trying to sustain life on Earth.”

Brocklebank, from Yeadon, Leeds, who appeared in person, and McKechnie, from Weymouth, Dorset, who appeared in custody from HMP Peterborough, deny the charges.

Xavier Gonzales-Trimmer, 21, originally faced the same charges after being accused of “distracting the guards” – but they were dropped.

However, he was fined for failing to appear at the court for a first hearing.