Just Stop Oil condemned by Sunak and Starmer after Stonehenge protest

Just Stop Oil condemned by Sunak and Starmer after Stonehenge protest

Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer were united in condemnation of Just Stop Oil after activists targeted Stonehenge with orange powder paint.

The Prime Minister described it as a “disgraceful act of vandalism” while the Labour leader branded the group “pathetic”.

Members of the public tried to intervene, struggling with the campaigners – named by the group as Rajan Naidu, 73, and Niamh Lynch, 21  – as they ran up to the ancient monument on Wednesday.

Video footage posted on social media showed two people wearing white shirts with the slogan Just Stop Oil, approaching the stone circle with canisters and spraying orange powder paint.

Mr Sunak said: “This is a disgraceful act of vandalism to one of the UK’s and the world’s oldest and most important monuments.”

In a reference to green energy entrepreneur Dale Vince, Mr Sunak added: “Just Stop Oil should be ashamed of their activists, and they and anyone associated with them, including a certain Labour Party donor, should issue a condemnation of this shameful act immediately.”

Mr Vince’s Ecotricity firm gave Labour £1.5 million according to the Electoral Commission data for the first quarter of 2024.

The green energy industrialist also reportedly gave another £1 million to the Opposition party the day after the General Election was called, taking his total donations to £5 million.

He has previously donated to Just Stop Oil, although last year he said he was diverting his funding to a campaign to encourage voter registration.

However, Mr Vince said he did not support Wednesday’s protest.

He said: “Since Rishi Sunak has asked me personally to comment, I will. I don’t support what JSO did today, it’s that simple.

“But there are far worse actions we could focus on, far more harmful ones, like pushing two million children and their families into poverty.

“This is what Sunak and the Conservatives have done with their two-child cap on benefits.

“One in three of our children now live in poverty in our country. That’s my definition of a shameful act, and one deserving of all our condemnation – it has mine.”

Sir Keir said: “The damage done to Stonehenge is outrageous. Just Stop Oil are pathetic.

“Those responsible must face the full force of the law.”

But Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho accused Labour of “faux outrage” at Just Stop Oil and claimed the Opposition’s net zero policy had been “dictated by fanatics” in the environmental protest group.

Wiltshire Police said officers had attended the scene and arrested two people.

A spokesman for the force said: “At around noon, we responded to a report that orange paint had been sprayed on some of the stones by two suspects.

“Officers attended the scene and arrested two people on suspicion of damaging the ancient monument.

“Our inquiries are ongoing, and we are working closely with English Heritage.”

English Heritage said experts were assessing the “extent of the damage” on the stones.

A spokeswoman said: “Orange powdered paint has been thrown at a number of the stones at Stonehenge.

“Obviously, this is extremely upsetting and our curators are investigating the extent of the damage. Stonehenge remains open to the public.”

Senior druid and pagan priest, King Arthur Pendragon, said he “totally” disapproves of the protest and that the group’s actions “alienate any sympathy” for their cause.

Mr Pendragon, who is standing as an independent parliamentary candidate for the area, said: “Stonehenge is a living working temple at times of celebration and pilgrimage such as the summer solstice and, as a well-known protester myself, I totally disapprove of such behaviour as demonstrated by these people who do nothing to enhance and everything to alienate any sympathy anyone has or had for their cause.”

The pagan priest has previously been involved in several protests at the monument and lost a legal challenge over a £15 car parking charge at the site in 2017, claiming the fee breached his human rights.

In a statement, Just Stop Oil said its action was to demand that the incoming UK government should agree a plan with other governments to end the extraction and burning of oil, gas and coal by 2030.

Just Stop Oil Stonehenge protest
People intervened as Just Stop Oil targeted the stones (Just Stop Oil/PA)

A spokesperson for the group said: “The UK’s government-in-waiting has committed to enacting Just Stop Oil’s original demand of ‘no new oil and gas’. However, we all know this is not enough.

“Continuing to burn coal, oil and gas will result in the death of millions. We have to come together to defend humanity or we risk everything.

“That’s why Just Stop Oil is demanding that our next government sign up to a legally binding treaty to phase out fossil fuels by 2030.”

The group said it used orange cornflour paint to spray onto the stones, which it claimed would “soon wash away with the rain”.

Responding to the group’s statement, Ms Coutinho said: “Labour’s faux outrage at the Stonehenge vandalism would carry a lot more weight if Just Stop Oil hadn’t also thanked Labour for enacting ‘their demands’ in their press release today.

“We must not allow Britain’s energy policy to be dictated by fanatics.”

Just Stop Oil protesters at Stonehenge
Just Stop Oil protesters took action the day before the summer solstice is celebrated at Stonehenge (Just Stop Oil/PA)

The incident happened on Wednesday at about 12pm, the day before the summer solstice is celebrated at Stonehenge, which is at the heart of a World Heritage site.

Around 8,000 people gathered at Stonehenge to mark the longest day of the year in 2023, with similar numbers expected on Thursday.

The solstice will be celebrated from 7pm on Thursday until 8am on Friday.

An English Heritage spokeswoman said: “It won’t be affected, we are still planning on having the solstice go ahead.”

In a statement released by Just Stop Oil, Miss Lynch, a student from Oxford, said the continued burning of fossil fuels was leading to “death and suffering”.

“It’s time for us to think about what our civilisation will leave behind – what is our legacy?” she said.

“Standing inert for generations works well for stones – not climate policy.”

Mr Naidu, from Birmingham, added: “Either we end the fossil-fuel era, or the fossil-fuel era will end us.

“Just as 50 years ago, when the world used international treaties to defuse the threats posed by nuclear weapons, today the world needs a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty to phase out fossil fuels and to support dependent economies, workers and communities to move away from oil, gas and coal.”