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Extinction Rebellion activists who caused £100,000 of damage by smashing windows of a Barclays bank in London have been spared jail – as a protestor called the violent stunt a ‘message of love’.
Zoe Cohen, 52, said she tried 40 years of lawful action with no result while speaking from a pink lectern outside Southwark Crown Court.
She was sentenced alongside five other women after being convicted of criminal damage for smashing the windows of the bank’s London headquarters on April 7 last year.
During the sentence, Judge David Milne called the protest at Barclays a ‘stunt’ and a ‘gimmick’ and said smashing their windows is not going to stop climate change.
Six Extinction Rebellion activists who caused £100,000 of damage by smashing windows of a Barclays bank in London have been spared jail
Cohen told a crowd of dozens of supporters: ‘He said in his comments, just before he gave us our sentence, that effectively we are correct that the scientific consensus agrees that climate change is real and that action is really needed.
‘That lifted my heart for a moment. So he, in this judicial double-standards crazy world, agrees that we need desperate action, but then in the same breath called our action a stunt and a gimmick.
‘When I was giving evidence I explained I’ve spent 40 years doing lawful actions trying to get stuff done and it doesn’t make any difference.
‘That’s why I resorted to doing what I did, to send a message of love to Barclays, the whole banking industry, that this political economy must change, it’s driving us off a cliff. We all know that.’
Police officers detained activists from Extinction Rebellion outside the Barclays in Canary Wharf
Inside court Cohen, who had represented herself, took issue with comments by the probation officer calling her a climate protester and instead described herself as a ‘climate defender’.
Her co-defendant Sophie Cowen, 32, said she feels beholden to a higher law and was ready to go to prison.
She said: ‘We need to look and step outside of our roles and our commitments to our job, whether you’re the banker or the judge, and commit to being a human. I think we talked about that message again and again and again.
‘He said we’re beholden to the law. Well there’s actually a higher law, there’s a bigger law.
‘The universal law is that everything should continue to live and survive, that is actually the law that I’m beholden to.
‘The most powerful thing we’ve got is just speaking the truth and the heart and the love.
‘I was ready for them to give us anything, I was really ready to go to prison, I was, you know, in a way had become fine with it in my head.
Women activists gathered around defendants (left to right) Rosemary Webster, Carol Wood, Lucy Porter, Zoe Cohen and Sophie Cowen
‘Because I get so much strength from just knowing and feeling that this is the work that we need to do and the work that we need to continue doing.
‘And that’s much stronger than anything they could have given us.’
Carol Wood, 54, Cowen, 32, Lucy Porter, 48, Gabriella Ditton, 29, Rosemary Webster, 64, and Cohen, 52, were all convicted of criminal damage on Monday over the incident.
Porter, Ditton and Webster were all on bail at the time and have been given a suspended sentence of eight months.
Meanwhile, Wood and Cohen were given a suspended sentence of seven months and Cowan a suspended sentence of six months.
The sentences for all the women have been suspended for two years.
The protestors argued that Barclays staff would have consented to the damage if they were fully informed about the climate crisis
In April last year, the group spread out along the front of Barclays bank in Canary Wharf, east London, before using chisels and hammers to break the large glass panels that made up the outside of the bank.
More than 20 supporters whooped and clapped as Judge David Milne KC concluded the hearing at Southwark Crown Court today.
During their trial the protestors argued that Barclays staff would have consented to the damage if they were fully informed about the climate crisis – and said they did not mean to cause as much damage as they did.
Owen Grenhall, defending Wood, said: ‘There is a difference between a protester and those who are normally before the court in other matters of criminality.
‘There is evidence of some planning of the protest. Much of the planning went to aspects of safety. Their planning was to ensure the action was carried out as safe as possible.
‘In terms of whether very serious damage was caused, my submission is they did not intend to cause damage at the financial levels which resulted in this case.
‘Yes, they intended to break the glass, but the consistent evidence was that they were very surprised that the glass broke that much.’
He added that there was no evidence of any distress caused, saying: ‘The value has to be assessed in the context of the event and one cannot ignore the fact that the income and profits made by Barclays are of an order greater than… it is hard to think of a comparable institution.’