FIGURES from the arts, the climate change lobby and others have signed an open letter in support of nine women, all members of Extinction Rebellion (XR), who were cleared last week of causing £500,000 worth of criminal damage by breaking windows at HSBC’s HQ in Canary Wharf, a verdict likely to give the green light to further damage and bullying. Regardless of the punitive repair costs inflicted on the bank, the signatories are calling for it to be held accountable for its fossil fuel investments.
They include Chris Packham, Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry, Juliet Stevenson, Sir Mark Rylance, former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Nish Kumar, Stewart Lee, Frankie Boyle, Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno. The full list appears at the end of this article.
Southwark Crown Court heard that the women sang as they shattered windows with hammers and chisels at about 7am on April 22, 2021.
They placed stickers on the windows reading ‘£80bn into fossil fuels in the last five years’ – the amount they say HSBC has invested in the area in the five years after the Paris Climate Agreement was signed.
Jessica Agar, 23, Blyth Brentnall, 32, Valerie Brown, 71, Eleanor Bujak, 30, Clare Farrell, 40, Miriam Instone, 25, Tracey Mallaghan, 47, Susan Reid, 65, and Samantha Smithson, 41, all denied criminal damage. None denied their part in the action and their case was based on the defence of ‘lawful excuse’. The Criminal Damage Act allows such a defence if a defendant believed that they had the consent of others to damage the property in question.
During the trial, the women wore shirts, blazers and suits given to them by fashion designer Stella McCartney.
The letter distributed by XR reads in part: ‘While we applaud the jury for recognising these women’s solid defence for taking such action and following their conscience, a collective act of madness is going unchecked both in the UK and across the globe. Those standing up in defence of life on Earth are being criminalised by the UK legal system, while our own government willingly continues to facilitate the destruction of our only home.
‘The world stands ablaze in front of us and still global powers choose to risk the death and displacement of billions in pursuit of uncurbed fossil fuel expansion. Yet, the world is in the ultimate crisis of accountability. As the case of these women shows, it is not illegal for banks such as HSBC to profit from destroying life on Earth. With billions invested in fossil fuels in the five years since the Paris Climate Agreement, we can’t help but wonder how many deaths these billions will have caused already? Why do such heinous crimes continue to go unpunished?’
The letter concludes: ‘Women throughout history have always gathered to resist in the name of life and love. Now, as money and power steer us on a path towards total climate and ecological collapse, protests like this are a rational response to the greatest crime humanity has ever faced. These women believed, as we do, that they are duty bound to resist a violent system that is risking the survival of everything we know and love.
‘It is now incumbent upon all good people of conscience to rise up as these women have, to pull together and find our collective power. We must all take the most effective action we can, find our courage and work in firm opposition to the dereliction of our only home.