Extinction Rebellion protesters stay away from court over Covid-19 fears

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Dozens of Extinction Rebellion protesters failed to attend their court hearings after the campaign group told them to stay away due to the coronavirus crisis.

Forty-nine people were due to appear at City of London magistrates court on Friday charged in connection with a series of environmental demonstrations held in the capital last October.

However, only one defendant attended their hearing after Extinction Rebellion told the defendants not to travel due to concerns about the spread of Covid-19.

Some court staff wore face masks and medical gloves during the morning, but these were later removed when it became apparent almost all the defendants would not be attending.

In the majority of cases, pleas were entered either by post or through lawyers.

A spokesman for Extinction Rebellion said: “We’ve been really concerned about large numbers of people coming into London, maybe getting infected and taking their virus back to their communities, so we advised them to stay away and arranged for lawyers to represent them.”

Elizabeth Garrett, who is charged with the wilful obstruction of a highway, told the court in writing she could not attend due to being in self-isolation, but pleaded guilty to the offence.

Prosecutor Dami Eniola said Garrett, 22, from Brighton, was “glued to other protesters” during a demonstration at Oxford Circus on 18 October.

In her submitted mitigation statement, which was read out by district judge Alexander Jacobs, Garrett said she took “full responsibility” for her actions, which were carried out to highlight pollution levels in London.

She was given a six-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay GBP85 in costs.

Retired counsellor Cathrine Sutcliffe, 70, and Terrance Sutcliffe, 67, also pleaded guilty by post to wilfully obstructing a road in Millbank on 8 October.

Eniola said both defendants, from Chippenham, Wiltshire, were “sat together on a large tarp in the middle of the road” during an Extinction Rebellion demonstration before they were arrested.

In a mitigation statement read out in court, Cathrine Sutcliffe, who has no previous convictions, said: “I have never done anything like this before. I have pleaded guilty, but most of all I feel guilty for not taking more action sooner. I will not look at my grandchildren and say ‘I did nothing’.”

She was handed a six-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay GBP85 costs.

Terrance Sutcliffe was ordered to pay GBP85 and given a nine-month conditional discharge due to him committing a “similar” offence on 18 April 2019, Jacobs said.

The majority of cases heard on Friday involved defendants charged with the wilful obstruction of a highway at various locations in London in October last year.

The court said eight out of the 49 defendants entered guilty pleas.

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