Campaigners cleared of criminal damage in protest at Schlumberger’s Cambridge research centre

Two climate campaigners accused of criminal damage at a fossil fuels protest on Cambridge University land have been found not guilty after nearly three years.

Schlumberger Gould Research Centre, Cambridge. Photo: DrillOrDrop

Marcus Lugg and Christopher Ford, from Cambridge, were part of a samba band at a demonstration at the Schlumberger Gould Research Centre in 2020.

The protest was part of a campaign by Extinction Rebellion (XR) Cambridge and XR Youth Cambridge against the research centre, one of several operated globally by Schlumberger, the world’s largest oilfield services company.

Yesterday (17/5/23), Cambridge crown court found the pair not guilty after the crown prosecution service (CPS) offered no evidence. The CPS told the court that a conviction was unlikely. It is understood the CPS had lost contact with a key witness.

Entrance blocked

An estimated 30-40 people took part in the protest on 3 July 2020. Some blockaded the entrance, while others staged what they called an “oil spill” on the site and locked themselves to the building. Reports said there were about 40 police officers present.

Mr Lugg and Mr Ford were charged in April 2021 with criminal damage valued at £25,100 plus VAT. They were alleged to have caused the damage by drumming with drum sticks on external security shutters at the research centre.

They opted for a crown court trial, which was first scheduled for November 2021.

The trial was later rearranged for January or February 2022, then June 2022, then November 2022.

The most recent trial date had been set for four days, on 23-26 October 2023.

After the not-guilty ruling, Mr Lugg said:

“I feel pretty great. It has been hanging over me. It has been a significant source of stress.

“Many believe this case had been brought to have a chilling effect on future protest.

“Instead of folding under the pressure to plead guilty for a reduced sentence and to avoid the threat of escalating legal consequences, we called the CPS’s bluff and stuck to the truth that we were innocent.”

DrillOrDrop invited the CPS, Schlumberger and Cambridge University to comment on the case.

The CPS said on 25 May 2023:

“On the day of the trial, a key witness could not be located to provide vital evidence for the prosecution, which resulted in us offering no evidence as there was no longer a realistic prospect of conviction.

“It is not the function of the CPS to decide whether a person is guilty of a criminal offence, but to make fair, independent, and objective assessments of the evidence in accordance with our legal test.”

We’ll update this article with any response from Schlumberger or Cambridge University.

More than 1,800 people and organisations have signed an open letter calling on Cambridge University and its colleges to end financial relationships and research partnerships with Schlumberger.

The letter also urged the university to break the lease with Schlumberger on the Schlumberger Gould Research Centre and turn the building into a climate emergency centre.

Earlier this year, Cambridge University Council made a general statement about protests in Cambridge. It condemned any act of violence which resulted in the intimidation of members of the university community. The council said it supported freedom of speech and the right to protest within the law. But it said:

“intimidation of our staff and students runs completely against the spirit of considered public discussion that we embody at this university and stands in the way of the academic freedom which the university so fiercely protests”.

In February 2023, the university vice chancellor, Anthony Freeling, revealed that security was being increased at the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, near the Schlumberger building.

5 replies »

  1. Over £25,000 worth of damage caused by drumming with drumsticks on security shutters? How could such extensive damage have been caused in this way, as security shutters are usually metal and pretty robust? Surely if so much damage had been caused that would be sufficient evidence of criminal damage without the need for the case to rely on a disappearing witness? The CPS admitting there was no evidence? It all seems rather odd!

  2. If £25,100 plus VAT’s worth of damage could be done to security shutters by one person drumming with drumsticks I’d say Cambridge University should be complaining to Trading Standards. The protestors have done them a favour in demonstrating the security shutters weren’t fit for purpose.

  3. Perhaps Lugg is correct in his discernment of the real motive for the prosecution – “pour encourager les autres”.

  4. Another in a long, long, long list of those connected with XR in which the CPS drop a case. Anyone would think these protests are coordinated by the state…oh hang on they are.

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