Climate change activist gets her day in court after CPS appeal earlier verdict
- Credit: Extinct Rebellion/Green Party
A climate change activist who was cleared of causing criminal damage after spray painting the headquarters of Cambridgeshire County Council in 2018 has now been convicted of the offence.
The Crown Prosecution Service went to the High Court on January 12 this year to successfully appeal the acquittal of Angela Ditchfield.
The case, which was originally heard at Cambridge Magistrates’ Court, was returned to Peterborough Magistrates’ Court on Monday to have the record amended to a conviction and for sentencing.
The hearing was told that Ditchfield, 42, was part of an organised Extinction Rebellion march from Cambridge city centre to Shire Hall on December 15, 2018.
Prosecutor Giles Beaumont said: “The defendant ran over to the building and spray painted what is believed to be the logo for Extinction Rebellion and RIP question mark.
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“A county council employee said at the time that they attempted to remove the graffiti with soap and water. They then had to purchase specialist chemicals in an attempt to remove the spray paint.”
Mr Beaumont said Ditchfield, of Walker Court, Cambridge, had no convictions at the time but had received a 12-month conditional discharge in October 2019 for a similar offence.
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He applied for £650 compensation and £650 costs.
Rhona Friedman, mitigating, said it was an “unusual situation” as the original justices had found the defendant not guilty.
She quoted their finding that Ditchfield had a “very strongly and honestly held belief that we are facing a climate emergency and you acted on the spur of the moment to protect the property and you believed the action was responsible in all the circumstances”.
Miss Friedman added: “The High Court found that the justices got the objectives wrong.”
She described Ditchfield as a committed Christian and committed campaigner who had set up a charity in Uganda.
“She thinks that it’s important that she brings the very serious situation which we all find ourselves in to people’s attention.
“She was involved in a march and symbolic coffin burying ceremony. She ran off and did this bit of spray painting.”
Miss Friedman mentioned a brain tumour which the defendant had suffered several years ago which had left her unable to work, acting impulsively and not thinking through the consequences of actions.
The imposition of £1,300 of compensation and costs, the court was told, would cause the defendant “significant hardship”.
District Judge Ken Sheraton gave Ditchfield a 12-month conditional discharge and told her to pay £650 compensation. There was no order for costs or victim surcharge.
She had said at the time of her arrest: “They watched while the spray painting happened and didn't arrest me. "They then contacted me a couple of days later to ask me in for a chat and I had an interview under caution.
“They called me back in to charge me.”
Extinct Rebellion issued the statement that Ditchfield said she had given to police after being questioned.
"I would like to plead guilty to criminally damaging the world.”
She said she did this “by living a normal privileged lifestyle involving using flights and cars, eating the products of the meat & dairy industry and other foods produced unsustainably”.
She also bought “plastic products and consumer electronics, unsustainable supermarket products, and I ask to be charged with all of that rather than focusing on one alleged specific incident involving a single building entrance.
“Even though I have cut down gradually on these activities, over my lifetime I have caused a huge amount of criminal damage in the world.”
She added: “My crime however was joint enterprise.
“I would like to request that the county council, and all levels of government up to Her Majesty be charged alongside me”.
She suggested the offences would be “criminal damage to the planet; breaking the social contract to protect our life and security, recklessly endangering life in Micronesia, Bangladesh, Afrika and among many of the world’s poorest peoples as well as all of our children’s grandchildren”.