Swapping Gloss for Whitewash

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Vigil held by CCA and friends outside the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy in November 2016 to mark one year since the Paris Climate Accord.

In 2015, on the first day of the Paris Climate Summit, members of Christian Climate Action daubed the Department of Energy and Climate Change with whitewash, painting on it the new title ‘Department for Extreme Climate Change’. We were charged with criminal damage, convicted and fined. Thank you to our supporters for your support throughout this, on the day of trial and for help with the fines. One year later in 2016 we whitewashed the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (since DECC is dissolved) and delivered 20kg of melting ice to their lobby while a vigil took place (holding a banner saying ‘Happy Birthday Paris, Our condolences to the Arctic’). We were not arrested, however the ice was not returned to us. What follows is a reflection on the motivation for these acts from one member of Christian Climate Action.

There is a joke that goes: ‘What can think the unthinkable?’ The answer is: ‘An itheberg!’.

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I like this joke as it deftly reminds us that the sinking of the Titanic was unthinkable. The predicament we find ourselves in has been likened to the sinking of the Titanic as we can’t seem to believe our great technical masterpiece of a civilization is vulnerable to the restraints of reality and thus we are unable to come to terms with the prognosis for our great global project.

When I worked in a hospital as a Radiotherapy Physicist, sometimes I would hear of the difficult role of doctors when speaking to cancer patients of their condition. Therapy can often effectively contribute to a positive outcome in cancer treatment but sometimes it cannot.

Sometimes a doctor will be tempted to mislead a patient as to the effectiveness of a treatment or the likely prognosis of their condition. Doctors need to contend with their own need to feel powerful but also patients or their families want their doctors to lie to them due to being unable or unwilling to accept their loss and powerlessness. Denial is common when hearing bad news. Grieving is associated with shock/denial, anger, bargaining, guilt/depression and acceptance (also sometimes called hope). We can often see these stages played out in our loved ones dealing with loss, even if we cannot see it in ourselves.

Nobody envies a doctor’s role in these difficult conversations. However,doctors are compensated, trained, resourced and esteemed due to this role we require of them. A doctor who tells you what you want to hear is negligent. A doctor who misleads you for personal gain or to advance the agenda of their sponsors would likely be struck off and possibly arrested.

This all comes to mind when it comes to painting whitewash on government departments with responsibilities for climate change.

We are in a desperate situation. The extent to which we have destabilized the climate will have catastrophic consequences. This is a result of our approach to life, not just how we choose to fuel our lives, but how we see the world and choose to interact with it. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are all stages we need to contend with while grieving this. This is inevitable and unavoidable and should be treated compassionately. However some are willing to exploit others in their grieving or encourage grievers to remain in the stage they are in. Denial serves the status quo, anger the activism industry, bargaining the ethical consumption industry and depression the self care industry. Acceptance seems to be good business for nobody but may allow us to be of some use.

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Since it is not climate change we are grieving but imminent, catastrophic, multivariate systemic collapse, we are grieving more than one thing at once and we grieve different stages concurrently (e.g. we might be in denial over the failure of the market, anger over the failure of democracy, as we bargain using low energy light-bulbs to offset our guilt over what we have done to our children but boasting about our acceptance of the reality of climate change). These stages of grief interfere with each other and it is all very complicated. None of us have made it to the other side but it is essential that we find some way of speaking honestly of our situation if we are ever going to make progress. We do not seem to be willing to speak honestly about what is going on. Even those of us who have a prophetic obligation find it difficult to discuss these things.

It should not surprise us then that we do not have a government who is willing to speak honestly about our condition or our likely prognosis. What is true of our government is also true of our church leadership (how many marriage courses warn couples that there may be no food for their impending children). It is also true of the many movements who would assure us we have decades to convince and soften the hearts of our ignorant, careless leaders with our marches, petitions and internet memes while promising we can relive the gay days of the British Empire. It is not clear how far any of us would get in any area of life if we were not willing to lie about this, affirming the ignorance and prejudice of our supporters. We are a people who are desperate to be lied to. We cannot accept how far we have gone astray from the way of life. We cannot accept that we are powerless to turn our systems, our institutions or even our own lives around.

Nevertheless, we often tell ourselves that we can turn around centuries of habitual violence and decades of climatic abuse in a time frame of years. Some would even tell us that the future technological utopia, made of materials and with labour from people kept out of sight out of mind, will somehow mark a break from our pattern so far. We are happy to be told that we can maintain lifestyles entirely dependent upon global injustice, decimation and blood-letting and do so with clean hands, even clean green hands. We speak of justice when we mean ‘just us’ and expect heaven on earth to result. We can barely speak of climate change – but climate change is just the strange fruit of a tree we will not even look at. To be radical is to look to the roots. We often call ourselves radical Christians but we are far from it.

We are a society in trouble. It is unfair to blame any one person or section of society for this. It is also counterproductive. Nevertheless we live in some sort of democracy. We have a government which represents us. Like the doctors described above, we appoint Government ministers and civil servants to act with integrity, making difficult decisions and giving us bad news.

Instead we have deception hidden behind respectable facades. In 2015 this government took us to the Paris Climate Summit claiming global leadership while actively promoting climate wrecking policies. This year the Department for Energy and Climate Change no longer exists. Now responsibilities for climate change belong to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. This alone should intimate the priority climate change has for this government.

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Melting ice overlooked by staff at DBEIS.  As seen from exterior.

At a symbolic level, our nation’s disregard for the climate crisis was well served by the offices of DECC with their respectable, sturdy facade hiding corruption and deception. Now the Portland stone of DECC has been replaced by BEIS’s glass frontage. This new facade is as transparent as the change of name but the deception continues within. Somehow we are told that this government is taking climate change seriously.

In this light the words of Ezekiel chapter 13 and Matthew 23 seem very appropriate. The painting of whitewash a symbolic correction to the these duplicitous facades.

Some green Christians took issue with our criminal damage. It was certainly criminal as we were arrested and then almost arrested the second time.

I take issue with the notion we damaged DECC or BEIS. A building, certainly a government building, serves at least two purposes. One is practical – it shelters its staff from the weather and allows them sockets to plug their photocopiers and computers into. The second is one of propaganda, projecting a narrative of legitimate power and respectability. We did no damage to the buildings of DECC or BEIS in the first sense as I reminded the magistrate at our trial – removing our work was entirely optional as it did not hinder the work of the department at all. In the second sense, damaging their ability to appear respectable and legitimate was entirely our intention and our prophetic obligation.

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5 members of CCA painting the portland stone exterior of DECC in Nov 2015 on the first day of the Paris Climate Summit.
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3 members of CCA painting the glass exterior of DBEIS while donating ice the the lobby.

Challenging the narratives of the powerful is the task of every Christian. As is advancing the narrative of the vulnerable God we serve. This empire we have built for ourselves as an act of worship will fall. It will be for the best that it falls but it will not fall gracefully. Like all of us, coming to terms with death will not come easily for it. We who have come to rely on the idols of our age will suffer most when they fail us – an

allotment does not hasten the end of the supermarkets but will soften the blow when they disappear. We are called to flee from this evil age. We are reminded also that we are under grace and not judgement.

As dis-empowering as grace is, it also will sustain us as we look honestly into our position.

Not all are called to be an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor or teacher. Clearly following the arrestable Christ does not mean arrest for everybody, just as following the executed Christ has only meant execution for some.

So, while we invite you to join us in our various acts of holy obedience/civil disobedience, we urge you to remember that we are one Church, have one God and have one mission: to offer hospitality to the Kingdom of Heaven, so as to witness to the transformation of this earth into the new earth – into the likeness of Christ – by the power of God, whose power appears weak rather than the horrific power of men.

– The End –

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Happy Birthday Paris Agreement Liturgy

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Call to Worship

O Divine Voice,

You sing and the universe comes into being;

O Divine Breath,

You breathe and all things spring to life;

O Divine Word,

You call and creation is sustained;

O Divine Flesh,

You are born among us, and the Creator is clothed in creation;

O Divine Spirit,

You contain all that has been formed;

O Divine Life,

You are the pulse of all that is;

And so, in faith and expectation, in wonder and celebration

we gather to remember this mystery:

In you all things live and move and have being

In all things, you live and move and express your Divine artistry;

And so we join with creation in the eternal song of worship and devotion.

Amen

Song

  1. O come, O come, Emmanuel
    And ransom captive Israel
    That mourns in lonely exile here
    Until the Son of God appears
    Rejoice! Rejoice!
    Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel
  1. Creation groans in agony
    We hold the keys to liberty
    But so worn down by cares of life
    We e’en neglect our own in strife
    (rejoice…)
  1. O God, we feel so far from Thee
    Thy presence, Thy eternity
    This fallen world is far from home
    And You seem hid by cloud, unknown
    (rejoice…)
  1. And on that day when God shall dwell
    With man in our new ‘Israel’
    Thy kingdom come, our fall undone
    And all creation joined as one
    (rejoice…)

 

Confession

Even as we receive again your vision of life,

we recognise that we have been blind to its universal heartbeat;

Even as we remember the connectedness of all things,

we acknowledge that we have divided and separated ourselves,

and forgotten our part in your creation;

Even as we are energised by your breath within us,

we confess our destructiveness,

and repent of the harm we have done to ourselves and our world.

 

To symbolise our involvement in the very idolatry, deceit, apathy and hypocrisy that we are fighting against, we may now, if we wish, paint a little whitewash on ourselves.

 

Even as we act against the idolatry, deceit, apathy and hypocrisy that is fueling climate change,

we confess that we are, ourselves, deeply involved in all these things.

For the sake of Jesus, the firstborn of all creation,

who, in death, disarmed all that is evil,

and, in resurrection, stripped death of power,

We ask you to recreate us, to reconnect us,

and to restore to us the vision of your life in creation,

and the power to live it.

Amen

The Lord’s Prayer

Statement of Faith

Let us proclaim together our conviction of, and commitment to, God’s purpose in creation:

We believe that God gave birth to the universe and all that is in it,

and we proclaim that God’s life is beyond and within it all.

We believe that, in Jesus, God was revealed in human flesh,

and we proclaim that all is recreated through Christ’s saving work.

We believe that God’s Spirit energises the created order,

and we proclaim that all things are one,

and everything lives in God.

Amen

 

Requests

Let us open ourselves to the grace of God,

to the brokenness of our world,

and to the call to be agents of healing and recreation.

Where human greed has stripped the world of beauty and life,

and robbed people of dignity and subsistence,

We pray, O God, for a new vision of abundance,

and a new commitment to nurture the world that feeds us

and share with those who do not have.

Silence

 

Where human hatred has severed relationships,

and broken the connection that unites creation,

We pray, O God, for love to be renewed,

and compassion to draw us back into union.

Silence

 

Where human loneliness, weakness, sickness and grief,

and the suffering of our planet and its inhabitants

hide the signs of your life,

We pray, O God, for healing, comfort and strength

and for the courage to keep hoping in the renewed creation to come.

Silence

 

Where human lust for power and money has prioritised economic growth above eco-system survival and abundant life for all,

We pray, O God, for common-sense and clear thinking

and a new awareness, in ourselves, this department, and the world, that keeping the earth viable for life and civilisation must take precedent over the economy.

Silence

 

We pray particularly for the people working in this building for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. One of its responsibilities is to ‘tackle climate change’.  We pray for a new awakening of what this means and the moral courage to do what it takes for our country to lead the world away from climate chaos and towards the safe and beautiful future that is your desire.

We pray, O God, for your Spirit to invade this department and fill all those working there with wisdom, compassion and courage.

Silence

 

A time of open prayer.  Please speak out loud, or silently, your requests to God.

O God, restore our faith,

revive our hope,

rekindle our love,

and hear our prayer;

For we offer it in Christ’s name.

Amen

Song

  1. Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
    That saved a wretch like me!
    I once was lost, but now am found;
    Was blind, but now I see.
  1. ‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
    And grace my fears relieved;
    How precious did that grace appear
    The hour I first believed.
  1. Through many dangers, toils and snares,
    I have already come;
    ‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
    And grace will lead me home.
  1. When we’ve been here ten thousand years,
    Bright shining as the sun,
    We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
    Than when we’d first begun

Sending out

So now we go from this place back into the world,

to proclaim the saving message of God,

in word and action, in challenge and compassion,

to all creation.

And we go in the confidence that comes from knowing that

Christ’s limitless grace,

God’s infinite love,

and the Holy Spirit’s relentless companionship,

always encompass us,

and are always within us.

Amen.

 

From John van de Laar © Sacredise 2007

 

Happy Birthday Paris Talks Vigil

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To celebrate the first anniversary of the Paris talks, and the recent ratification of the Paris agreement by the UK Government, Christian Climate Action are holding a vigil to protest the lack of any meaningful action in response to the agreement, and to pray that our country will take the action required.

Monday 28th November, 9.30am

1 Victoria Street, London, SW1H 0ET

Please join us!

The Liturgy we will be praying is here.

Phil’s defence statement

Phil’s defence, that he gave at Hammersmith Magistrate’s court on 31st May, 2016, based primarily upon Lawful Excuse, Section 5 of the Criminal Damage Act.

Phil prayingI am before this court charged with criminal damage. I stand here first of all as a grandparent. Since the birth of my eldest grandchild 16 years ago, I have studied the causes of climate change and other aspects of the destruction of the Earth. I am deeply disturbed by what the vast majority of scientists are predicting with regard to the Earth which will be inherited by my grandchildren’s generation and the generations which follow them. Not to do all that I can to prevent what is currently predicted would be to participate in great harm to them. I think it reasonable to regard the harm being done as criminal damage at a worldwide level.

I also come here as a Roman Catholic Christian. There are three aspects of the destruction caused by climate change which I regard as integral to my faith as a follower of Jesus Christ. a) The first is the depletion and extinction of life-forms. The current geological era is witnessing the largest extinction of life since the time of the dinosaurs. This extinction is human-made and is exacerbated by climate change. I believe that all life-forms are God’s creation and therefore to be regarded with care and respect. b) The second is that the people most affected by climate change are those who are poor, who do not receive a fair share of what God has given for everyone. A central aspect of Catholic Social Teaching is that they are especially close to God’s heart. The extremes of weather which are being experienced are taking more and more of their lives. There is a likelihood that these lost lives become statistics rather than persons, especially when they occur in parts of the world which are distant from us. For this reason I would like to show the court two photographs.

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Survivors of Typhoon Haiyan take part in a religious procession in Tolosa, on the eastern Philippine island of Leyte, 18 November 2013. Photograph: Philippe Lopez/AFP. The Guardian.

The first is of a funeral procession for a person killed when Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines. Shock and grief are etched on their faces. The second is of a woman holding a placard after the damage done by Hurricane Katrina in the United States. The placard says ‘Honouring those still missing’. There is a beautiful aspect of these photographs, namely the human act of honouring our dead. There is also something deeply poignant because it is possible that these deaths could have been prevented if we all had acted more determinedly and sooner. I find it very painful to acknowledge my own part in not doing that. c) The third aspect concerns our descendants and those who follow them. They too are regarded as close to God’s heart because they are the most powerless of all. Their well-being depends upon what we do to leave them a sustainable Earth.

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/culturesubculture/

These three aspects of injustice are regularly referred to by Pope Francis. I believe that I am called to respond to each of them. My implementation of this calling has many inadequacies, ones which I continually seek God’s grace to overcome.

For all of the reasons which I have referred to, I regard it as essential that we do what we can to keep fossil-fuels in the ground.

In the 5 months before our action at DECC, the Secretary of State made many statements of concern about climate change. At the same time she and her colleagues rescinded a large number of policy decisions which previously had been reducing CO2 emissions. I will mention 3 of them:

  • 18th June, she excluded new onshore wind farms from a subsidy scheme a year earlier than had been planned.
  • 8th July, budget changes reduced the incentive to buy low-emission vehicles.
  • 10th July, the plan for new homes to be zero-carbon was ended.

I felt disturbed by the discrepancy between the words and deeds of Government Ministers. I also experienced despair in relation to the pending Paris conference where the UK’s leadership role seemed to be losing credibility. The promises made by governments before the Paris Climate Change talks still left the Earth on a trajectory towards an increase in temperature of at least 2.7 degrees Centigrade above pre-industrial levels. Please note that this figure is three times the current increase. The levels of suffering which are predicted have been spelled out by a World Bank report called ‘Turn down the Heat: Why we must avoid a 4 degree C rise in temperature’. The contents hardly bear thinking about, but think we must. This opening few days of the Paris conference were for me a crucial time for hope to be regained by a real commitment to keep fossil-fuels in the ground.

My experience is that it is very difficult to obtain an honest discussion with politicians about climate change and other aspects of the destruction of the Earth; and particularly so if I seek to relate these issues to the workings of the economy. A recurring question to myself is ‘what do I do when I am not represented in the way in which I expect a citizen to be represented?’ I have come to the conclusion that direct action is necessary, both to contribute to life and to retain a semblance of integrity. I am also aware that many of the great developments in human rights have come about partly because of actions outside the power structures of the time. Within most religions, there is an honourable and long-standing tradition of acting upon conscience rather than upon law, and if necessary practising civil disobedience. Whilst breaking the law should never be done lightly, if it seems the only way left to me of avoiding injustice or danger for others, I am willing to do it. I regard the situation with regard to the seriousness and urgency of climate change as having similarities with those of slavery, apartheid, the US Civil Rights Campaign and the dictatorship of the Marcos regime in the Philippines, in all of which Christians played a part in helping valuable changes to occur.

What did I hope to achieve by this action?

This action was taken in the first days of the Paris conference within which the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State were to contribute. The urgency for action was immediate because the extremes of weather associated with climate change are already taking the lives of people and other life forms, and are seriously affecting the property and livelyhoods of many people. I wanted to point to DECC and the Government as causing danger instead of avoiding it. My hope was that this public act would make clear that a much greater commitment by our Government within the Paris talks towards keeping fossil fuels in the ground and replacing them with renewable energy was essential; and that they still had the opportunity to do that.

Doing our best to prevent unnecessary deaths is, I believe, an integral aspect of our humanity.

I regard my actions as reasonable and proportionate because other ways of trying to influence Government policy which I had tried had clearly not resulted in the policies which are necessary to prevent death and damage to property and loss of livelyhoods. Our behaviour towards others who we met during this action was, I believe, respectful and peaceful. We tidied up the area after taking our action, made no attempt to avoid arrest and cooperated with the police when they arrived.

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There is no stopping them! Phil, Westley and Martin holding banners to the road in the pouring rain moments before their trial.

Much of my 35 years campaigning has been with the Catholic overseas aid agency, CAFOD. Many of the campaigns which CAFOD initiates relate to injustices arising from the activities of corporations or international trade and economic organisations (such as the International Monetary Fund in relation to the debts of the poorer countries). During the earlier years of my campaigning with CAFOD, there were substantial differences between political parties and their policies. In that sense, I experienced support from opposition parties. In general, those differences have been steadily eroded by a positioning of all major parties around the centre right. The opposition to the Government of the day has increasingly become vested in a plethora of NGOs which, while vitally important, need the support of politicians if their aims are to be achieved. Many of us who are involved in campaigning are disturbed by this increasing absence of representation. Corporate power has steadily developed a hold over political institutions during this time. This process pervades policy-making in relation to climate change where fossil-fuel companies (and financial corporations which invest in these), hold considerable power in relation to political institutions. This power, taken together with the reduction of meaningful representation, has led to a Democratic Deficit in countries across the world. Thus whilst a basic principle of democratic political systems is that they enable widespread participation in power by citizens, in practice the lobbying power of corporations increasingly subverts this principle. Pope Francis often notes how economic power subverts democracy. Meeting with members of the US Congress last December he said ‘If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance.’ In addition to this structural democratic deficit, I experience a personal one in philrelation to my own MP. This arises because he does not accept the science of the human causation of climate change and at the same time is either not able or not willing to give me the evidence upon which he bases his position. (I had written to my MP 2 weeks before the trial to ask if he would be willing to confirm that what I saying was true. He replied, but did not refer to this request. I had copies available of this correspondence but the judge did not ask to see them).

Helen’s statement in court

This is my legal argument in court; for more about my motivation, see my previous post here.


We were taking part in a small, peaceful protest, and what we did was reasonable under the circumstance, therefore it was not criminal damage. I’m going to outline what the circumstances were, and why I feel that our actions under these circumstances were reasonable.

 

  1. The circumstances

Climate change – is the biggest threat to our country and global society we face. It’s not about trees and polar bears, somewhere far away in time and space; it is already affecting global health and agriculture, and is affecting the world’s most vulnerable people badly today. It impacts all areas of society – security, the economy, health, migration, agriculture, trade – and is worsening and becoming harder and costlier to deal with the longer we take to act. It is increasingly costing real, human lives, and sending global society into serious imbalances and undermining our future as a country.

Paris summit – The day we took our action was the first day of the Paris climate talks, at which our government were talking the talk about tackling climate change and committing us as a country to action – whilst at the same time, rolling back the policies at home that would allow this to be possible. This is stunningly hypocritical and demonstrates there is nothing but, at best, wishful thinking behind our talk, and this is the example we leave for other countries.

Government backtracking – the DECC is responsible for policy directly related to energy and climate change. We hear fine words about taking climate change seriously when it suits government rhetoric, but the actual policies coming out of DECC have been a systematic dismantling of support for renewable energy, energy efficiency measures, sustainable development and the green economy, whilst support for fossil fuels, like fracking, and new money for oil, gas and even old coal power, and climate-damaging infrastructure like airport expansion has increased. We cannot say we take climate change seriously and commit to cutting emissions if we at the same time cut all the measures that would make it possible.

Democratic deficit – You could ask why we didn’t for example hold a banner, or have a protest. But this is far from our first action – I personally have been campaigning for over a decade on this, and others have even longer, but it seems the message of the urgency and importance of real cuts to greenhouse gas emissions is not getting through in conventional ways, and hence the need for a bit of drama. The majority of the public want action on climate change, and support renewable energy in some way, and are against fracking. We’ve marched, we’ve petitioned, we’ve written to MPs, we’ve written to ministers, we’ve met our MPs and lobbied, we’ve campaigned and voted in the election, we’ve moved investments and supported businesses who are calling for progress… we’ve used all our democratic powers, and yet still those who are meant to represent us are doing the opposite of what we are calling for, systematically dismantling all the policies we had fought for that would help to make this country sustainable and keep us from a dangerous future. There hasn’t been nearly enough of an outcry about this, and whilst we are doing our best through the usual democratic means, we need to break this loud silence and get across that this is absolutely unacceptable, anti-progress and anti-democratic.

  1. Why it was reasonable

We did not cause harm, aggression or hostility to any person, and indeed my aim ultimately is for those inside DECC who want real action on climate change to be freed to do their jobs, not tied by short-sighted anti-green agendas from above.

Our action was small scale and reversible, but done to illustrate an important truth.

It was in line with my commitment to Jesus as a Christian – as a Christian I feel that whilst it is essential to always act out of love for God and others, I have a responsibility to speak out against injustice to protect all that God loves, human and non-human, which may at times involve non-violent direct action in the tradition of Christ and the prophets where I feel justice and truth are being silenced.

We were using art to make a statement exposing truth, exercising our right to creative expression – perhaps arguably an improvement given the building’s name afterwards was more truthful.

It was hard to find an alternative way to do this without resorting to such means when ordinary means of exercising democratic rights have been disregarded.

  1. Therefore this was not criminal damage.