LONDON – Six climate change activists who stormed the track at last year’s British Grand Prix Formula 1 race in one of a series of disruptive protests against fossil fuels were spared prison sentences Friday.
Five of the activists had to be dragged from the track as cars passed by during the July protest on behalf of the group Just Stop Oil, which has staged a series of protests blocking a major highway and targeting priceless artworks with stunts designed to attract publicity.
The protesters ran onto the track at the Silverstone Circuit after a crash on the first lap led to a red flag that slowed traffic.
“This was not trespass or obstruction of a highway or criminal damage — to put it colloquially this was in a different league," Justice Neil Garnham told the protesters in Northampton Crown Court.
The group wants the U.K. government to halt new oil and gas projects.
Three of the protesters were given suspended prison terms and three were ordered to complete a year of community service.
Two of the protesters given suspended sentences — Louis McKechnie, 22, and Emily Brocklebank, 24 — were convicted of gluing themselves to the frame of a 70 million pound Vincent Van Gogh painting days before the speedway protest.
The judge said the race track protest had created the risk of injury or death, though he understood they did not intend to cause harm but draw attention to climate change.
“I knew I was safe and secure where I was on the track. I understood that where I was would be perfectly fine,” McKechnie testified. “Those drivers are the best drivers in the world. They would not even have flinched at something like this.”
The anti-oil group has also splattered tomato soup on the glass covering a van Gogh painting in London’s National Gallery and glued themselves to the frame of a copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” in the Royal Academy of Arts.
Similar protests have been staged in other European cities, with participants gluing themselves to Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl With a Pearl Earring” in The Hague and throwing mashed potatoes at a Claude Monet painting in a German museum.
Just Stop Oil is backed by the U.S.-based Climate Emergency Fund, which supports youthful disruptive environmental protests.