An architect has been found guilty of a public order offence after refusing to move from Waterloo Bridge during an Extinction Rebellion (XR) protest in April
Tom Bennett, 33, who works at Hackney-based Studio Bark, was handed a conditional discharge and ordered to pay £640 in court fees at City of London Magistrates’ Court yesterday (13 November).
Police had ordered protesters to move from Waterloo Bridge to Marble Arch under section 14 of the Public Order Act, but Bennett – who was lying in the middle of the road at the time of his arrest – refused to comply.
The public prosecutor said Bennett had knowingly disobeyed the police order and had blocked a public highway.
He added that Bennett’s protest could have continued elsewhere and that Bennett’s right to freedom of expression ‘had to be balanced against the rights of ordinary Londoners to go about their business’.
Bennett did not dispute any facts about his arrest but pleaded not guilty, arguing in a 16-minute speech that his action was necessary to draw attention to and provoke action to tackle the global environmental crisis.
‘There is an overwhelming body of scientific evidence that says climate change is already causing deaths – it’s not my opinion, it’s an established fact,’ he told the court.
‘The disruption [we caused] is unfortunate … but it is clear that the harm which could be averted is of a different category and scale.’
Nick Newman and Tom Bennett, both of Studio Bark, pictured at an XR protest on Oxford Street
Source: Nisha Zala
Bennett, who quoted David Attenborough and activist James Baldwin during the hearing, said governments and corporations were not doing enough to fight climate change – but that XR had successfully raised the profile of climate change as a social issue.
Speaking after the verdict, Bennett told the court he was ‘disappointed’ to receive a conviction for a non-violent offence.
He told the room: ‘The [environmental] situation is dire, but we could turn this around. For that, we need all of us: architects, journalists, lawyers and even magistrates.’
Bennett’s colleague at Studio Bark, Nick Newman, was present throughout the trial. Newman was himself arrested at an XR protest in October but is doubtful about whether his case will proceed after the Supreme Court said a blanket ban on XR protests issued by the police in October was unlawful.
Bennett is now obliged to report his criminal record to the ARB, which could discipline him if it considers his conviction to have a ‘material relevance to [his] fitness to practise as an architect’.
The ARB declined to comment on Bennett’s case, but said that it would consider a statement from the architect, adding that it ‘endeavours to make all our decisions in a timely manner’.
When does the ARB care about criminal convictions?
The architects regulator has the power to suspend or expel individuals from the Architects Register when they are found guilty of a crime. This is what the Architects Code says:
A criminal conviction may be materially relevant to your fitness to practise, if, for example (this list is not exclusive):
a) it constitutes an offence under the Architects Act 1997 or other legislation directly affecting architects;
b) it arises directly out of your professional activities;
c) it constitutes an offence of dishonesty;
d) it otherwise calls into question your integrity.