Greenpeace UK‘s executive director John Sauven has narrowly escaped a prison sentence after a court in Scotland found the charity guilty of flouting a court order banning protests on an oil rig last summer.
During a court session in Edinburgh, Lady Wolffe said she would have been justified in jailing Mr Sauven, arguing he “retained overall control, and could have ended the action at any point”.
But she said she had decided to show “leniency”, instead imposing a £80,000 fine on Greenpeace, plus payment of Transocean’s legal costs.
The Transocean rig had been contracted to BP and was about to be transported to the Vorlich oil field in the North Sea, when it was boarded by Greenpeace activists on 11 June 2019. The activists were removed on 14 June, with BP and Transocean securing an emergency interdict preventing further protests within 500 metres of the rig.
Greenpeace ignored the court order and staged a fresh protest on the rig on 14 June, with activists unfurling a banner reading “climate emergency”. Greenpeace boats also came within a 500 metre exclusion zone around the rig in a further occupation attempt later that month.
The charity argued the “climate emergency” made continuing the protest essential in spite of the interdict. But Lady Wolffe said it was “fundamental to the rule of law that court orders are obeyed”.
She also rejected Greenpeace’s claims it could not be held responsible for the actions of its protesters, in a warning that could reverberate through future direct action cases. “Having regard to the whole circumstances, I find that the conduct of the volunteers and Greenpeace members – whose actions were essentially facilitated by Greenpeace – are to be treated as acts for which Greenpeace are responsible,” she said.
Speaking in the wake of Lady Wolffe’s ruling, Mr Sauven was unrepentant. “We stand by our reasons for taking action to stop BP’s reckless drilling, which is driving us deeper into the climate emergency,” he said. Greenpeace said it has now launched a legal bid to get BP’s drilling permit for the North Sea cancelled altogether.