Arresting News of (Dis)organised Crime and Corruption
ECO-ACTIVIST celebrities have made a last minute intervention urging the government to abandon its prosecution of Greenpeace for dropping boulders off the coast of Brighton in an effort to protect the seabed from industrial fishing.
Actors, rock stars, writers and TV chefs have accused ministers of turning a blind eye to “destructive bottom trawling” by industrial fishing vessels, which are allowed to operate in the protected marine zones around Britain’s coastal waters.
The celebrities slammed the Tory government for its “lack of ambition” and “leadership” in protecting Britain’s oceans and asked it to stop the trial, which starts on Tuesday.
A motley crew, including Mark Rylance, Thandie Newton, Robert Plant, Mya Rose Craig, Jarvis Cocker, Alison Steadman, Stephen Fry, Paloma Faith, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Bonnie Wright and Sir Randolph Fiennes signed their names on individual boulders that were dropped by a Greenpeace ship in to a Marine Protected Area in Brighton last February.
A similar direct action in Dogger Bank off the coast of Yorkshire led the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), a government regulator, to prosecute Greenpeace and its executive director.
The celebrities have signed an open letter to environment secretary George Eustice urging him in blunt terms to “show leadership” and stop the criminal trial.
The letter, seen by The Upsetter, says:
We are shocked that the MMO has now decided to waste public resources prosecuting Greenpeace for protecting our oceans. We are all living through a climate and nature emergency. But instead of protecting our planet the MMO prefers to attack environmental defenders for highlighting their failure to protect our oceans and doing their job for them. We are writing to urge you to instruct the MMO to change course and cease prosecution. We urge you to show leadership in protecting our oceans.
The reprieve plea comes as Boris Johnson struggles to convince anyone of his newly found green credentials with the UK just weeks away from hosting COP26, the United Nations Climate Change conference, in Glasgow.
The letter continues:
Is prosecuting environmental defenders for taking action to protect nature the message our government wishes to send to nations around the world? This is a pivotal time for leadership in a global struggle to save our planet. Instead of taking a piecemeal approach, the government and MMO need to prioritise fully protecting at least 30% of our oceans by 2030, in line with scientific advice.
The MMO was set up in 2010 to manage 230,000 sq kms of sea, including 175 Marine Protected Areas (MPA), while also regulating sustainable fishing and the development of renewable energy such as wind farms.
The Brighton MPA was established in 2016 as a crucial habitat for marine life, such as hermit crabs, starfish and sponges, which form part of the English Channel’s complex marine ecosystem.
Julie Birchill, the Brighton-based former columnist, had suggested “self-righteous friends of starfish” should “for once” stand up for humans. So The Upsetter suggests an environmentally-friendly compromise: local fisherman could make figureheads of Birchill for the bow and scare fish out of the water.
Greenpeace had alerted the MMO to research showing that between 2019 and 2020 Brighton’s MPA was “one of the most heavily bottom-trawled.”
Scraping and ploughing the seabed “damages habitats, harms biodiversity and disturbs blue carbon safely stored in the seabed,” Greenpeace said in a letter to the regulator days after dropping the boulder barrier off the Sussex coast.
Trawlers also pose a threat to the UK fish population, of which only a third is in a healthy state.
Last year, a government-commissioned independent review recommended the immediate setting up of ‘Highly Protected Marine Areas’ where all fishing is banned.
Eustice has so far taken no action and may be demoted in the forthcoming reshuffle after apparently falling out of favour with the prime minister’s wife.
Carrie Johnson until recently worked as a press agent for Oceana, the marine conservation charity, which has found that in 2019 trawlers spent 122,000 hours fishing in all 73 UK offshore MPAs.
The MMO is now considering introducing bottom-trawling restrictions, but has persisted with its decision to prosecute Greenpeace UK and executive director John Sauven.
They’ve instructed high-profile human rights barrister Kirsty Brimelow QC, a newly appointed judge and trustee of the World Wildlife Fund UK.
Her clients will be pleading not guilty in Newcastle Crown Court to a charge of dropping boulders without a license, contrary to the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.
In effort to persuade the MMO that the action taken by Greenpeace’s vessel Esperanza was legitimate and responsible, Sauven wrote on 26 February:
This peaceful action was taken as a last resort, following the longstanding failure of the UK Government to properly protect Offshore Brighton and the rest of the UK’s Marine Protected Area (MPA) network. After the previous action by the Esperanza in the Dogger Bank MPA in September 2020, the Government proposed to introduce full bottom trawling bans in the Dogger Bank and South Dorset MPAs.
“While welcome and significant, this would provide proper protection for just two of the UK’s offshore MPAs. As a starting point for delivering the Government’s 30 by 30 ocean protection commitment, all supertrawlers and bottom trawlers need to be banned immediately from all 76 offshore UK MPAs. This matters particularly to set a global example ahead of the final round of negotiations for a Global Ocean Treaty this year.
“18 inert, natural granite boulders were placed at predetermined locations on the seabed across 55 square nautical miles of the Offshore Brighton MCZ, as an underwater blockade to prevent bottom trawling. The boulders weigh up to three tonnes each. They are removable, and Greenpeace UK is prepared to do so following a credible commitment from the UK Government to properly protect Offshore Brighton and the rest of the UK’s MPA network.
Sauven’s letter also tried to address the regulator’s claim that the direct action was unlawful because it lacked a licence. He wrote:
The Esperanza sails under the flag of the Netherlands and is subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Netherlands in this matter. We assessed the activity beforehand under the applicable Dutch law and concluded it was lawful. I note that no attempt has been made to respond to or rebut these points in correspondence to date. Both points remain valid in respect of the activity in the Offshore Brighton MCZ.
“I may add that the Dutch Public Prosecutor’s Office reviewed the actions of
the Esperanza in the Dogger Bank MPA. In a letter of 13 October 2020 it confirms that the Netherlands has jurisdiction, and concludes that the activity did not require a licence under Dutch law, nor did it pose any meaningful risk to the safety of navigation.
The MMO was not impressed by the argument and on 21 May summonsed Sauven and the campaign group to appear before magistrates for a private prosecution.
A backlog caused by Covid-19 makes it unlikely a full trial will take place before the New Year.
By which time COP26 will be over, the greenwashing of government by Eton Rifles no longer necessary and, in the words of boulder-dropping singer Jarvis Cocker:
“Cunts are still running the world.”
And so it goes.