An Extinction Rebellion protester has been cleared of criminal damage for spray-painting a council building after successfully arguing she was acting to defend her property.
Angela Ditchfield was arrested after defacing the headquarters of Cambridgeshire County Council during a protest last December painting two XR symbols onto the building.
However, Friday the 41-year-old was found not guilty at Cambridge Magistrates’ Court as the bench said she was acting "on the spur of moment to protect land and homes".
Ms Ditchfield, from King's Hedges Cambridge, argued she had a legal excuse to commit the vandalism as she believed there was an immediate threat to her property from climate disaster, a defence that can be used in minor cases of criminal damage.
The defence is usually envisaged for scenarios where someone breaks a window or door to get into a burning building.
Delivering their verdict, magistrates said: “We find that you have a very strong and honestly held belief that we are facing a climate emergency.
“That you acted on the spur of moment to protect land and homes under threat from climate change, believing that immediate protection was necessary, and the action could be said to have been taken to protect property, and that you believed action chosen was reasonable in all circumstances.”
As the ruling was made in magistrates court it cannot set a legal precedent, but could be used by other members of the protest group as a defence against criminal damage.
The court case comes after thousands of members of the protest group have been arrested over the last year as it has launched a series of mass protests.
Police banned the group from protesting in London after more than 1,800 were arrested after the group occupied Trafalgar Square.
In April, XR protestors brought large parts of the capital to a standstill by occupying roads and gluing themselves to buildings, leading to more than 1,100 arrests and 900 being charged, although most received conditional discharges.
Last week, Cressida Dick, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said the protests had cost the police £37 million, led to other investigations being stalled and some policing “not done at all.”
Following the verdict, Ms Ditchfield, who has previously stood as a Green Party candidate for Cambridgeshire County Council, said she considered climate change to be "criminal damage to the whole web of life".
She added: “I’m happy to have had the chance to expose in court some of our local councils’ roles in that - from threats to build homes on my local park St Albans, to investments in fossil fuels and not making public transport affordable.
“I’ve tried all the democratic means and they weren’t achieving enough alone. We need more people using civil disobedience to force all levels of government to take the need for climate justice seriously.”