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Protester disrupted council budget meeting

PUBLISHED: 18:55 12 June 2019 | UPDATED: 09:09 22 June 2019

Robert Possnett. Picture: Extinction Rebellion

Robert Possnett. Picture: Extinction Rebellion

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An unrepentant climate change protester found guilty of acting in a disorderly manner in a protest at a Norfolk council meeting says he hopes his case "empowers others to act".

On February 11, Robert Possnett was one of a number of Extinction Rebellion protestors to hold a protest in the Norfolk County Council chambers, at County Hall in Norwich. Picture: Extinction RebellionOn February 11, Robert Possnett was one of a number of Extinction Rebellion protestors to hold a protest in the Norfolk County Council chambers, at County Hall in Norwich. Picture: Extinction Rebellion

A climate change protester who has been found guilty of acting in a disorderly manner at a public meeting has said he hope his actions "empowers others to act".

Robert Possnett of White Rose Cottage, Great Barton, near Bury St Edmunds, in Suffolk, was one of a number of Extinction Rebellion protesters who disrupted a meeting in the Norfolk County Council chambers at County Hall in Norwich.

Appearing at Norwich Magistrates on Wednesday, Possnett had pleaded not guilty.

But after hearing evidence from the 57-year-old, members of Norfolk County Council and watching police video footage of the protest on February 11, Deputy District Judge Paul Booty found Possnett guilty.

He was fined £350 plus £20 in costs and given a conditional discharge of 12 months.

The court heard how Margaret Stone, the former chairman of Norfolk County Council, had repeatedly attempted to start the council's budget meeting but had been unable to because of protestors singing and chanting in the chamber.

She eventually had to call the police to assist councillors and to remove the protesters from the chamber.

She said: "The chanting wouldn't stop. About the third or fourth time I went into the chamber with police. I was asked to read out a sentence asking the protesters to leave, it made no difference at all.

"It distressed me that this was stopping democracy in play.

"I'm very happy to talk to protesters but when they stop democracy there is a problem."

Giving evidence, Possnett, who is a stay-at-home father, told the court he had first become interested in environmental issues in 1989.

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He said the aim of the protest had been to put pressure on the council to consider its stance on the Western Link road.

He told the court, he had protested because he believed it would "prevent a greater crime and a further contribution to the 40,000 people who die each year from air pollution."

When asked if he felt his actions were appropriate he said "I think so", and when asked if his actions were proportionate he said: "Totally. We were trying to be peaceful."

When asked if he had heard the start of the council meeting, he said: "I didn't hear it, there maybe reasons for that but I didn't hear anything."

The court also heard from, Steffan Aquarone, a Liberal Democrat councillor who was present in the chamber on February 11, he told the court: "I did not think that the [protester's] behaviour was disorderly, it was disruptive in that it was difficult to hear what the chair was saying, it seemed to intended to disrupt the order of business but it wasn't disorderly."

Sentencing Possnett, District Judge Booty said: "It's a great shame that a man of your years has lost his good name today,

"It's a great shame that on this occasion you have taken thing further than you probably ought to have done."

Following the trial, Possnett said: "I feel a bit proud, the only thing they could do me for was an old law that was invented in order to control the suffragettes.

"This is an extinction problem not only for us but for many people. I just hope that this empowers others to act and to take it seriously and not to worry about getting arrested.

"At the end of the day whatever the court does to me is not going to change my life, but climate change is going to changes everybody's life."

Amy Wilson, a spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion Norwich, said the group was "disappointed but not surprised" by the verdict.

She said: "The court today spent hours deliberating the nature of disorder and in the end the magistrate opted for a dictionary definition.

"Given the disorder that we are likely to witness over the next 20-50 years, we believe that future historians in the UK will look back on cases like the Possnett trial with a similar degree of sympathy and admiration afforded to the suffragette movement."

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