The trial of six Extinction Rebellion protesters accused over a blockade of deliveries from some of the UK’s major newspapers has been paused to await an “imminent” Supreme Court judgment in a similar case.
The activists appeared at St Albans Magistrates’ Court on Thursday accused of obstructing a highway outside Newsprinters printing works in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, on September 4 2020.
On what was supposed to be the final day of evidence, Raj Chada, defending, made an application to adjourn the trial pending a decision by the Supreme Court in the case of four protesters who were convicted after locking themselves together outside an arms fair in east London.
The country’s highest court is expected this month to rule on whether to uphold the convictions of Christopher Cole, Henrietta Cullinan, Joanna Frew and Nora Ziegler, who were all acquitted by a magistrate of obstruction of the highway near the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) event at the ExCel Centre in September 2017, before the decision was overturned by the High Court in January 2019.
Mr Chada said: “It’s clear this case revolves around the right to freedom of speech and how far the state can interfere in that right.
“We believe the judgment in the Supreme Court is imminent. Given the centrality that case will have in the evidence we give and closing speeches, we make an application to adjourn.”
Judge Sally Fudge accepted the application, adding: “All trials in this case, where possible, should be determined under the same law. And, what happens in this trial has and will have an impact on the following trials.”
The court has heard how during the action in September, around 50 XR members used vehicles and bamboo structures, used as lock-ons, to deny access to or from the Broxbourne site.
The Newsprinters presses publish the Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corp’s titles including the Sun, Times, Sun On Sunday and Sunday Times, as well as the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, the Daily Mail and Mail On Sunday, and the London Evening Standard.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided to try six defendants at a time.
This is the second trial, involving defendants Caspar Hughes, 49, of Exeter; Elise Yarde, 32, of Walthamstow; Amir Jones, 39, of London; Laura Frandsen, 30, of London; Charlotte Kirin, 51, of Bury St Edmunds; and Hazel Stenson, 56, of Bury St Edmonds.
The trial has heard how Home Secretary Priti Patel allegedly made multiple calls to commanding officers about the protest but the conversations were not recorded and text messages sent were deleted in an IT “glitch”.
Mr Chada, defending five of the activists, said an independent review of the incident, commissioned by Hertfordshire Constabulary, found officers took the “correct approach” despite “significant political pressure”.
In light of the missing evidence, Mr Chada said “the defendants cannot receive a fair trial”.
Judge Fudge ruled that the contents of the messages sent between the Home Secretary and police should not be disclosed in court.
Assistant Chief Constable Owen Weatherill, who oversaw policing during the incident, appeared in court to give evidence on Ms Patel’s actions.
Mr Weatherill denied that “pressure from the Home Secretary had impacted his decision-making, adding: “I made the decisions and approached the incident based on strategic objectives on my own accord.”
The trial is now set to continue on July 5 this year.