Civil servant pleads guilty to role in Extinction Rebellion protest

Staffer handed conditional discharge after printworks blockade that saw campaigners chained and cemented together
Extinction Rebellion protesters at Newsprinters. Photo: Gareth Morris/Extinction Rebellion

By Jim Dunton

07 Oct 2020

A civil servant has been handed a six-month conditional discharge after pleading guilty to taking part in an Extinction Rebellion protest that blockaded a newspaper printing plant.

Will Farbrother, of Waltham Forest in north-east London, was one of two activists charged in connection with last month’s protest in Hertfordshire who admitted their roles in the demonstration at St Albans Magistrates Court on Monday.

A further 28 activists entered not guilty pleas to charges of obstructing the highway related to the incident at the Newsprinters works in Broxbourne. The plant is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News UK organisation and prints The Sun, The Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail among other titles. 

Another 20 protesters were due to appear in court on Tuesday in connection with the blockade, which aimed to highlight Extinction Rebellion’s dissatisfaction with the mainstream print media’s coverage of climate-change issues.

Prosecutor Nigel Osborne told magistrates police were called to the Newsprinters warehouse at around 10pm on 4 September in response to a “large number of individuals” protesting outside.

He said many of the 50-60 campaigners had their hands chained together inside plastic tubes filled with cement that officers subsequently had to cut through. Farbrother was one such protester.

The prosecutor said the plant normally printed and dispatched around 3.5 million newspapers and magazines overnight and that the cost of the action was estimated at more than £1.2m because of the disruption caused to its operations.

Farbrother’s representative in court told magistrates the civil servant recognised he had broken the law but felt strongly that the mainstream media was not only misinforming the public about the climate crisis but were actively preventing an adequate response to it.

In addition to the conditional discharge, Farbrother was told to pay £105 with a further £22 victim surcharge.

Magistrates heard he is due to start a one-year sabbatical that will allow him to work with refugees in Greece.

CSW sought a response from the department where Farbrother is understood to work. A spokesperson said: "We have nothing to add".

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