Manchester student Just Stop Oil activist gets suspended jail sentence

The activists have been convicted of causing damage to a frame surrounding a Van Gogh painting

Two Just Stop Oil activists have just been convicted of causing “substantial” and “permanent” damage to an 18th Century frame surrounding a Van Gogh painting.

Salford student Emily Brocklebank, 24, and Bournemouth student Louis McKechnie, 22, accepted attaching themselves to the frame around the painting, but denied intending to cause any damage.

District Judge Neeta Minhas said the 18th Century frame had been irreparably damaged and found Brocklebank and McKechnie guilty of causing criminal damage worth £2,000.

Louis McKechnie, who is on remand awaiting trial for another alleged offence, has been jailed for three weeks.

Emily Brocklebank also received three weeks jail, which is suspended for six months.

She is subject to a six-week curfew and has to spend each night between two addresses in Manchester and Leeds, as well as paying £1,000 in compensation to the gallery.

The Tab spoke to Brocklebank and McKechnie back in July after their protest. You can read what they had to say here.

CCTV played during the trial in Westminster showed the pair entering the Courtauld Gallery in central London, before taking off their jackets to reveal Just Stop Oil t-shirts as they put glue on their hands.

The activists argued their action was a “proportional” response to the climate, and said it was valid exercise of their rights of freedom of expression and assembly.

They also claimed during the trial that the owners of the painting would have consented to their protest had they understood it. The judge did not accept their arguments.

A third person, 21, was said by the prosecution to have distracted security while Brocklebank and McKechnie glued themselves on to the frame, but charges were dropped against him.

Giving evidence during the trial, McKechnie had said: “I used superglue to attach myself to the back of the frame, as far away from the painting as possible.

“We glued ourselves to things in practice and chose one that was easy to remove and does not eat upon contact. There is a lot of different brands of glue, we tested all of them. I chose the option that would mean minimal damage to the frame.”

McKechnie had also called it “the most effective protest we have seen”, saying the press coverage and “news of the climate crisis was published internationally because of [their] actions”.

Passing sentence at Westminster Magistrates’ Court today Judge Minhas said: “I find that the damage to the frame is something that cannot be washed away. The damage caused has been replaced by something similar but different. The frame has changed forever.

“An 18th Century frame, which is 100 years old, has been permanently damaged. It is not in a state where it can be returned to its original state. In the context of the type of item this is, with its significant historical and art value, I consider the damage to be substantial, it is not insignificant, not minor, not temporary and not trivial.”

Summing up, prosecutor Jonathan Bryan said because the damage was to private property, the activists could not rely on their right to freedom of expression and assembly as a legal defence.

He said: “It is quite clear from the evidence heard today that the painting was private property, not public. It is very different from a public building or statue owned by the state or local authority.”

Francesca Cociani, defending, said: “Both defendants believe it was a proportionate response given the severity of the climate crisis and the lightness of the damage and the exorbitant profits of the trust.

“The defendants had no intention to cause permanent or transient damage, the intention was to gain media attention to their cause. The point remains, the damage was completely trivial. Unless someone knows what has happened and where, it is practically impossible to tell.”

Related stories recommended by this writer:

Two uni students glue themselves to Van Gogh painting in protest against fuel companies

Exclusive: We spoke to the former Manchester Uni student who threw soup on Van Gogh’s art

London uni becomes first in UK to ban fossil fuel employers from recruiting students