If you do send me to prison, I shall go with pride

On Thursday the 23rd of November, Christopher Ford, 46, a nursery school teaching assistant, and father of two sons, was remanded to Pentonville prison for peacefully marching for two minutes in the road near Trafalgar Square. 

There are now 7 Just Stop Oil supporters imprisoned without trial for marching in the road. 

For the third time this month, Chris was brought before a Judge at Highbury Magistrates court, after being arrested on November 20th and charged with Wilful Obstruction of the Highway. 

In the dock, Chris refused to comply with the court, vowing to listen “to the voice of conscience” and continue marching if released.  

Below is the statement made by Chris in court:

My name is Chris. I’m a nursery school teaching assistant – or I was until austerity closed the nursery. My duties there were to provide one-to-one care for children with special needs. More importantly, though, I’m a father to two sons and I’m terrified for their future because of the climate crisis, because of our leaders’ inability to understand the science of climate change and their ineptitude to act upon it. Indeed, the parallels between this and the evidence Chris Whitty has given in the COVID inquiry this week are there for all to see. Yesterday, I was arrested, literally within seconds of starting my protest: it was, without exaggeration, under 5 seconds. For those 5 seconds, I’ve now been in custody for 20 hours. 

On Monday, I had a similar experience – about 1 minute protesting in Westminster, which led to 25 hours in custody. And three weeks ago, I protested in Parliament Square for around 15 to 20 minutes, which led to 52 hours in a police cell. This means that I have spent around 100 hours in custody for protesting for no longer than 25 minutes. Having been held for those 52 hours, I was then produced to court, where I was bailed with the condition not to enter London, our capital city and home to the seat of power.

This was done in order to stop me protesting, which I believe breaks my human rights. I was represented by a solicitor that day, who I feel, unfortunately, did not challenge this properly. I struggled with this imposition for a week before emailing the court to explain why I would, in fact, be returning to protest. I have broken that bail condition twice now this week, but I have not done so from a lack of respect for lawful authority, but instead in obedience to the higher law of our being, the voice of conscience. Indeed, I would like to impress upon you that all my actions in protests have been out of conscience and a selfless concern for others. And that despite what loudmouth newspapers and even louder mouthed home secretaries would have you believe, myself and others within the environmental movement believe in the rule of law for a fair and safe society. Indeed, it is the fear of the breakdown of law and order due to the climate crisis that leads us to try our best to peacefully and democratically change the direction that our society is heading in. I talk about a breakdown of law and order due to climate change.

This is the United Nations prediction and it doesn’t take much to imagine why. A change in our climate will lead to ecosystem collapse and crop failures, which will lead to food shortages, which will lead to conflict over dwindling resources, which will lead to a breakdown of law and order. We’ve already had a foretaste of this during COVID – people fighting in supermarkets over toilet paper, a breakdown of law and order just so that people could wipe their backside? What would it be like when there is no food? How extreme would it get when people cannot feed themselves or their children?

I said just now that we wish to democratically change the direction society is heading through protest. I know the loudmouth newspapers and ignorant internet trolls would struggle with this concept, but as I’m sure the court knows, protest is a fundamental, necessary and most powerful tool that democracy bears. I’m not sure that they are being sincere, but you often hear politicians say the phrase ‘protest is a cornerstone of democracy’. We see in Parliament Square statues of Nelson Mandela, Millicent Fawcett and my personal hero, Mahatma Gandhi. They are venerated and upheld as defenders of democracy. So for us to be arrested in sight of these giants for emulating them and using their tactics, it smacks of hypocrisy. Although, of course, both Gandhi and Mandela ultimately won, in part, because of the prison sentences that they received. 

The recent raft of anti-protest laws that the government has introduced are a double smack in the face of our democracy. Not only have they all but banned protests, but they have forced these laws through using executive powers that no previous government would have dreamt of doing. They use these powers after the House of Lords has blocked them. Things truly have come to a pretty pass when it is our unelected House of Lords that are trying to protect our fundamental democratic right to protest. The fact that the government pushed laws through in this way rather shows their lack of regard for law and for the lawmaking process. 

Another example of their lack of regard may be the government’s COVID lockdown parties. But more recently, the government’s colours have shone through again last week after their Rwanda immigration policy was deemed unlawful by law courts. Their response has left many jaws hitting the floor, leaving the European consensus on human rights and other international agreements, and with the Conservative Party chair saying that the government should just ignore the judges, break the law and illegally fly immigrants out anyway.

They have no respect for the law. Indeed, they are making a mockery of the law. They are making fools of lawmakers, fools of the law enforcers and fools of the law courts. If you let them, they’ll make a fool out of you too, forcing you to send peaceful, conscientious people to prison on remand for simply marching, protesting for a legitimate reason, protecting our loved ones and doing so outside of Parliament in the company of Gandhi and Mandela. You’ll look like a right fool, or worse, like an authoritarian monster who cares nothing for civil liberties, all because of these ridiculous, regressive laws brought on by successive home secretaries. 

When I marched yesterday, I knew I was running the risk of being imprisoned for up to three months. I don’t want to be. The very thought of going to prison scares the life out of me. I’ll be absent from my uncle’s funeral next week, will miss my nephew’s 10th birthday, miss Christmas, miss my mum’s 80th birthday and my son’s 20th. I don’t want to go to prison. But I am prepared to do this in order to shine a light on the loss of our democratic rights and to defend my children’s future in whatever way I can.

And if you do send me to prison, I shall go with pride that I am in the same company as Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. But I’d rather you didn’t. I’d rather go to the funeral to support my mum and reminisce with my family about how my uncle would dress as Father Christmas each year. I’d rather spend Christmas with my elderly parents, especially as my father has the early stages of dementia, and we don’t know how many more years he has with us. I’d rather be with my sons as they transition into adulthood. I’m saying all this to try and show you that I’m not an extremist, an eco-terrorist, or an eco-zealot, as the Daily Mail and certain Conservative MPs call us. Boris Johnson called us uncooperative crusties. I’m neither uncooperative, nor am I crusty. I am, like many others in the environmental movement, a passionate and loving person who cares deeply for his family and what is morally right. To paraphrase Antonio Guterres, the United Nations Secretary General, climate activists are not extremists. The real extremists are the governments and companies continuing with fossil fuel extraction. Our government is releasing over 100 new oil licences for fossil fuel extraction.

They are putting profits before people. They are the extremists. It should be them in the dock here for endangering lives, profiteering on insecurity, and threatening our children. I’m just trying to do the right thing. And now, I’m hoping that you’ll do the right thing, too, Judge. I’m hoping you’ll decide that sending me on remand for three months is not proportionate for less than 30 minutes of marching in the very place where protest is celebrated. I’m hoping that you won’t let the government’s new laws make a fool out of you. I’m hoping you will release me, and with no bail conditions, because I do intend to carry on protesting for our future. But if you don’t release me, if you do remand me to prison, then you shall hand me the bigger victory, for then I shall join Gandhi and Mandela in prison. Although, of course, I wouldn’t hold myself to their level. At least I’d be in the same ballpark.