Seven women face jail time for smashing windows in protest against Barclays’ fossil fuel finance

The protesters wore patches on their clothes that read ‘Better broken windows than broken promises' (PA)
The protesters wore patches on their clothes that read ‘Better broken windows than broken promises' (PA)

Seven women taking part in an Extinction Rebellion protest at Barclays bank’s headquarters in Canary Wharf last year have been found guilty of criminal damage and now face jail sentences of up to 18 months.

The protesters caused almost £100,000 worth of damage after using hammers and chisels to smash windows, and putting up posters reading "in case of climate emergency, break glass".

At the trial in Southwark Crown Court which began late last month, jurors were told the group arrived in Canary Wharf  at around 7am on 7 April, 2021. They then spread out around the front of the bank, using tools to crack the large glass panels forming the walls of the bank’s ground floor.

The court was shown CCTV footage showing the women place their tools down and sit in a line as they were photographed in front of the building. Police then arrived and they arrested the group on suspicion of criminal damage.

The defendants – Rosemary Annie Webster, 64, Cazzie Wood, 53, Gabby Ditton, 28, Lucy Porter, 48, Niki Stickells, 52, Sophie Cowen, 31 and Zoe Cohen, 52 – were all found guilty.

Sentencing will take place on 27 January with the women facing maximum penalties of up to 18 months in prison.

Extinction Rebellion said it was the eighth case in which the group’s activists have been before a jury. Of these eight, three have resulted in a not guilty verdict.

The group said the verdict "reflects the increasing repression of climate protesters around the world, including in the UK, at a pivotal time in the fight to tackle the escalating climate emergency.

"There are currently 27 climate activists in prison in the UK," they said.

In a statement, Extinction Rebellion said the activists were aiming to "increase public awareness of Barclays’ complicity in escalating climate change".

Citing a 2022 report by Reclaim Finance, Extinction Rebellion said: "Barclays is the UK and Europe’s largest financier of fossil fuels. Since 2021, when the International Energy Agency concluded there could be no new oil, gas or coal development if the world was to reach net zero by 2050, Barclays has invested over $19bn (£15.5bn) in fossil fuels.

"Since the Paris Climate Agreement in 2016, their total investment in fossil fuels is over $166bn (£135bn)."

This is a larger figure than the £130bn bill the government is looking at to freeze energy bills over the next 18 months, partly due to historic over-dependence on fossil fuels.

Speaking after the guilty verdict, defendant Zoe Cohen thanked the jury for spending time on the case. She said: “When the UK government and judiciary is doing its utmost to clamp down on ordinary people trying to protect life, and prevent societal breakdown, the jury system is a small chink of light and hope.

"We are ever grateful to our 12 peers for their time and attention. The inability of juries to consider ‘necessity’ as a defence – that our actions were necessary to prevent greater harm – in cases like ours is beyond madness.

"It looks like 2022 will be the UK’s hottest year ever, 30 million people in Pakistan have been displaced by extreme floods this year, and Europe remains in its worst drought for 500 years. I remain more terrified of climate and societal breakdown than I do of the consequences of this verdict.

“After these 10 days, it is even more obvious to me that our establishment is in total denial, and that the law as it currently stands is utterly unable to protect us. It is the real criminals – the banks and corporations causing and enabling this catastrophe – that should be in the dock. Unless many more ordinary women, and men, step up into peaceful civil disobedience, we and our children will die of obedience.”

Defendant and former teacher Lucy Porter told the jury: “We are not above the law. I accept that I cracked a window. I accept that I may be convicted , but I cannot accept that I am a criminal, while companies like Barclays continue to break legally binding agreements which are causing suffering and death across the globe.

“The children I taught have not consented to their world being destroyed in the name of extraction, destruction and profit for a powerful few – no one has asked their permission. They have not been given a voice or a chance to exercise any democratic rights.

“I want to thank you sincerely for the time you’ve sacrificed, putting your lives on hold to be here, doing your duty not only on behalf of the law but also on behalf of society and indeed the future.

That’s a big responsibility and we are grateful and proud to be standing before a jury of our peers.”

The Independent has contacted Barclays for comment.