The Olympic gold medal-winning canoeist Etienne Stott was one of five climate activists who had charges against them dismissed on Tuesday after a judge agreed with their claim that the oil tanker they had occupied was not itself a vehicle.
The 43-year-old and fellow Extinction Rebellion activists Erika Curren, 65, Amy Rugg-Easey, 31, Nichola Andersen, 50, and Shaun Davies, 32, had all denied a charge of tampering with a motor vehicle during a protest in London on 16 April last year.
Stott and Rugg-Easey had climbed the articulated lorry at the junction of Porchester Terrace and Bayswater Road, Paddington, and unfurled a banner reading: “End fossil filth”, the court heard.
Andersen glued herself on to a metal bar on the side of the vehicle and Curren glued herself to one of its rear wheels, while Davies managed to evade a police cordon to get beneath and glue himself to its fuel tank. The vehicle was delayed for more than four hours while specialist police teams were deployed to unstick and bring them down.
The defendants argued they had a lawful excuse for their protest, under their rights to freedom of thought, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly guaranteed by the European convention. But they also argued that the part of the tanker they stuck themselves to did not constitute a vehicle.
District judge John Zani agreed. Throwing the case out, he told the court: “I have given this careful consideration because it is an interesting point of law.
“You have the cab and you have the trailer. The trailer is incapable of self-movement without input from the cab.
“They are in effect safety features, in terms of breaking, lighting and alarm, but they don’t transform what is in the back into a different form of vehicle.
“I have formed the view that submissions from [defence lawyer] Charles McCombe are accurate, so on that basis I find that there isn’t a case to answer here and therefore the case to each on the file is dismissed.”
The five protesters all thanked the judge before leaving court.
Central News contributed to this report