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Greenpeace boss John Sauven at risk of two-year jail term after stopping BP drilling for new oil

PUBLISHED: 18:33 24 February 2020 | UPDATED: 18:33 24 February 2020

John Sauven, Executive Director Greenpeace UK, outside Edingburgh's Court of Session on the first day of the trial.  Picture: Robert Omerod

John Sauven, Executive Director Greenpeace UK, outside Edingburgh's Court of Session on the first day of the trial. Picture: Robert Omerod

© Robert Ormerod / Greenpeace

Greenpeace’s boss could be jailed for two years, after the owner of a rig that eco-activists blocked from drilling for new oil wells pursued legal action against him.

Greenpeace boat alongside the BP-chartered Transocean 'The Paul B Loyd Jr' rig en route to the Vorlich field in the North Sea. The Greenpeace ship the Arctic Sunrise had been following the BP rig as it headed to the North Sea drilling site. The rig undertook a U-turn when it arrived at the site and can be seen heading back towards Scotland.  Picture: Jiri RezacGreenpeace boat alongside the BP-chartered Transocean 'The Paul B Loyd Jr' rig en route to the Vorlich field in the North Sea. The Greenpeace ship the Arctic Sunrise had been following the BP rig as it headed to the North Sea drilling site. The rig undertook a U-turn when it arrived at the site and can be seen heading back towards Scotland. Picture: Jiri Rezac

John Sauven, the executive director of Greenpeace, whose HQ is at Canonbury Villas, attended a hearing at Edinburgh's Court of Session today, which saw Transocean seek to hit the non-governmental organisation with unlimited fines for contempt of court.

The Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise blocked the Transocean rig - which BP was paying £140,000 a day to use - as it was en route to the Vorlich oil field in the North Sea to drill for new wells in June, forcing it to do a u-turn and head back to shore.

Greenpeace stands accused of breaching an interim interdict secured by Transocean - with BP's consent - because it continued its protest - which eventually lasted for 12 days and saw activists board the rig.

Lawyers for Greenpeace argued it was necessary to disrupt the BP rig to prevent the multi-national oil and gas giant from making the climate emergency worse by extracting 30 million barrels of oil.

Greenpeace climbers on BP oil rig in Cromarty Firth, Scotland.
The rig is the 'Paul B Loyd Jr', owned by Transocean, and on its way to the Vorlich field where it was to be drilling new oil wells, operated by BP, paying �140,000 a day for its use. BP is the operator, and Transocean the owner. Picture: Robert Omerod/ GreenpeaceGreenpeace climbers on BP oil rig in Cromarty Firth, Scotland. The rig is the 'Paul B Loyd Jr', owned by Transocean, and on its way to the Vorlich field where it was to be drilling new oil wells, operated by BP, paying �140,000 a day for its use. BP is the operator, and Transocean the owner. Picture: Robert Omerod/ Greenpeace

Scientists have warned that to limit global warming to 1.5°C we must not burn the oil and gas that has already been extracted.

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Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven branded the legal action an attempt to stifle climate campaigners through legal action.

He said: "Six months after our rig action ended, and after getting a permanent interdict against Greenpeace, BP's rig operator Transocean is desperately doing everything it can to scare us off. But we will not be silenced. We will stand up proudly in court to defend our peaceful protest.

John Sauven, Executive Director Greenpeace UK, and supporters are outside Edingburgh's Court of Session on the first day of the trial. Picture: Robert OmerodJohn Sauven, Executive Director Greenpeace UK, and supporters are outside Edingburgh's Court of Session on the first day of the trial. Picture: Robert Omerod

"Stopping BP's rig was our moral duty when faced with oil giants fuelling the climate emergency, threatening the safety of our planet and putting lives at risk."

A spokesperson for BP denied the legal action had anything to do with them and said they did not wish to comment.

Transocean was approached for comment but has not responded. Their lawyer John Barne QC asked the court to make an example of Greenpeace, and warned of soft penalties for climate groups. 
He said: "If in terms of penalty the court gives a message that this is okay when there are other organisations out there that are less well-trained and less safe than Greenpeace, it is important that people understand that the court can give protection and that that protection should be obeyed."

Judge Lady Wolffe will deliver a verdict on March 23.

In a separate legal case, Greenpeace has been granted permission to judicially review BP's drilling permit for the Vorlich oil field east of Aberdeen. 
Greenpeace argues that the permit is unlawful because there was no proper public consultation.


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