At around 3am on Monday 20 May 2019, Greenpeace protestors blocked the entrances to BP's head office with five shipping containers and simultaneously six climbers scaled the building and hung banners claiming a 'climate emergency'.

The stated aim of Greenpeace was to keep BP's head office closed and Greenpeace claimed that the protestors in the containers had supplies to last at least a week along with toilet facilities.

Despite the aims of Greenpeace, the protest was over in less than 24 hours with police arresting and removing the protestors. 

In our inbrief concerning trespassers, which can be seen here we posed the question - Trespassers will be prosecuted.....or will they?

The general answer to that question is no they won't. However, reports following the arrest of the protestors state that ten protestors were arrested for aggravated trespass.

So what is aggravated trespass?  Aggravated trespass is an offence introduced by section 68 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (the "Act") as part of a range of powers aimed at criminalising the use of land without permission for gatherings such as "raves" and protests. 

In order for the prosecution to prove that the offence has been committed, it must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the person trespassed on land in the open air where people were engaging in, or were about to engage in, lawful activity and the trespasser did something with the intention of:

  1. intimidating those people or any of them so as to deter them from engaging in that activity; or 
  2. obstructing that activity; or 
  3. disrupting that activity.

Clearly the aim of Greenpeace was, at the very least, to obstruct and disrupt staff going to work, given that they were unable to gain access to the building.

Although it is not entirely clear which of the protestors were arrested (container dwellers or climbers or all of them) the Act specifically states that the offence is not committed on highways or roads, which are specifically excluded from the definition of land. The protestors, at least the container dwellers appear therefore to have a defence to any prosecution for aggravated trespass.

However, there is a general presumption that the owner of land adjoining the highway is also owner of the sub-soil of one-half of the highway and the air-space above and so it may be that the protestors trespassed on land owned by BP. The question is whether that trespass amounted to aggravated trespass. 

It remains to be seen whether any prosecutions will follow. The CPS will have to decide whether there is sufficient evidence to prosecute and whether it is in the public interest to do so, but in any event some might say that the arrests had the effect of removing the protestors and allowing BP to continue operating its lawful business without interruption from them.