I’ve been an activist with Greenpeace for a decade but never ended up in ‘the cells’ – that was until early 2020 outside BP’s London headquarters…
In case you missed it… It was first day on the job for BP’s new CEO Bernard Looney (so many jokes) and Greenpeace UK wanted to make it memorable. So at 3am in the morning, I, along with over 100 other Greenpeace activists, delivered 500 solar panels with a total area of over 800 square metres to their offices in central London. The police were quick to the scene and after some jostling the solar panels were removed. But this did act as a brilliant distraction, as whilst the police focused on the solar panels, the ‘door’ teams were able to ‘lock on’ to dirty oil barrels positioned outside all entrances to the building. Success!
The next 12 hours
We sat on the pavement. Me and my barrel buddy, Janice. Keeping ourselves occupied. Chatting to the police guarding us. It was freezing but we were well looked after by the Greenpeace Actions team. I sat on two silver thermal camping mats, with a sleeping bag over my legs. I was locked into the barrel, hardly comfortable, but not unbearable. Besides, there was plenty to distract as the flashing lights and sirens echoed around St James Square like Hawaii Five O, various police units patrolled the scene scratching their heads in search of the best course of action and let’s not forget the backpack of goodies each activist collected the previous day. Packed to the rafters ready for any and every eventuality. We had enough food to last a good couple of days. I also took a notepad and pen to play games, hangman actually, but I didn’t expect to be playing it with three police officers – took them ages to guess Gogglebox!
To pee or not to pee
During the kafuffle at the start, the police got hold of one of the barrels so eventually figured out a way to cut us out safely. We were the fourth barrel to be cut free. As they finished up the third barrel I had a very difficult decision – to pee, or not to pee – is not something you think will ever cause concern in adulthood, however there I was sat on a pavement in the middle of London with my arm in an old oil barrel with a full bladder, with nowhere to pee. And I’d purposely not drunk a drop since 5pm the day before, for this very reason. I whittled my options down to:
- Pee before they start cutting me out so I can pee in a calm and controlled manner – panic peeing may lead to surprise seepage
- Hold it until I get to the police station and hope the cutting-out exercise doesn’t trigger a distress deluge
You may think I was overthinking the situation, so wait until I tell you I planned for this very moment three days beforehand by sitting on the floor, in my bathroom, wearing a nappy, trying to pee. ITS NOT EASY. Everything about the situation tells your body not to pee. But I did it, and it was actually OK, no leakage so long as it’s released slowly – a good pelvic floor is essential! Back on the pavement I got into position (kneeling in case you’re wondering). With the Action team with me for moral support and the world’s media in my face, I began to pee. Then, just as I’m finding a comfortable flow, John Sauven, Greenpeace UK Executive Director excitedly comes over, waving his phone in my face with a picture of me on the Guardian website. Still peeing, I smiled and gave him the thumbs up. You know an activity is hitting the spot when the national media – Sky News + Telegraph – are all talking about it
Off to the slammer
We were cut out of the barrel by the Specialist Enforcement Removal Team at 12.45pm. The giant clippers and electric chainsaws were noisy, and of course there’s the risk of a slip that severs an arm/hand/finger, but it’s unlikely (I told myself). We were read our rights at 1pm and taken to Wandsworth police station. A female officer patted me down and found the pair of clean pants I’d just put in my pocket before handing over my rucksack. I told her they were because I planned to change out of my nappy. She looked disgusted so I reassured her it was only a ‘number one’!
The final 12 hours
It felt like a lifetime. I’d heard the average time to be kept in a cell after an Action is 10-14 hours which sounds shorter than it feels. Especially when you can’t sleep and have no idea what time it is. ALWAYS PACK A BOOK. It saved me. The mattress was hard, and despite the blankets being itchy you can ask for up to three of them (depending on availability). The food was decent. Vegan option – breakfast was tomatoes and beans, dinner was veggie chili and rice, I called for seconds, they obliged. Endless cups of water and tea/coffee. My cell had a skylight which was my only way of vaguely telling the time until it got dark. The cell was 13 tiles long x 9 tiles wide. There was a toilet bowl in the corner of the room. All cells have 24-hour surveillance, but I was assured the toilet area is pixelated on camera – still feels weird, but if you gotta go… I was interviewed at midnight following a briefing with my solicitor which Greenpeace arrange. It’s a ‘no comment’ scenario but the sneaky detectives will try and make you bite but saying incorrect statements. It was back in the cell after questioning but not before I had DNA swabs taken from inside both cheeks, full handprints (not just fingers), and the classic mug shots. We were released at 3.30am. A Greenpeace welfare officer was there to meet us. Despite the early hour, we had to swing by HQ to pick up our bags, phones, keys etc before heading home. I slept like a log!
Four weeks later we all appeared at Westminster Supreme Courts where I received a conditional charge meaning I had to pay a small fine of £106, and have to stay out of ‘trouble’ for 12 months to avoid further prosecution, in England and Wales…
Why do it?
Last year I had a panic attack. It was news to me too. Never suffered anything like this ever before. During the Amazon fires last Autumn I found myself looking at Twitter images of burnt animals in the fires which triggered an overwhelming emotional and physical response. I started to feel pins and needles in my chest which spread to my hands, creeping up my arms to my face. I called my partner in a panic who managed to calm me down but for a long time after I couldn’t talk about what happened without triggering another reaction. My eco-anxiety is real and I can no longer simply take passive action against the fossil fuel industry. I’m in it for the long run and will do whatever it takes in this climate emergency.
This wasn’t my first Action but it was my first time being arrested. Doing anything for the first time can be daunting. Plenty of unknowns. So if you’re thinking about taking the NVDA training, or putting yourself forward for a high risk action, then I encourage you to do it. Standing up for what you believe, putting your money where your mouth is, makes you a unique individual in a world where most people are all trousers!
In the lead up to the Action I found some time to deconstruct and document the contents of my bag – some surprising items in there I think you’ll agree:
- Orange felt covered chain + D-Ring clip hook – used to attach myself onto a pole in the middle of the barrel. Felt cushioning meant I dint have any marks even after 12 hours
- How to be right in a world gone wrong by James O’Brien – any book to pass time in a police cell but this is actually a really good read
- Adult nappy – you can’t go to the toilet when you’re locked-into a barrel so there’s only one thing for it
- She-pee – comes in many shapes and sizes but requires two hands to use. Clearly an error packing this item
- Imodium – so it’s only ever a ‘number one’
- BP is intending to spend $71 billion developing new oil and gas fields this decade, that’s just 3% of its total investments on clean energy
- Twenty years ago BP spent millions on a campaign showing how it was going ‘Beyond Petroleum’ and shifting its focus to renewables – but it never did
- It’s time to switch its operations immediately from fossil fuels to renewables
- BP must explain exactly how it plans to hit net zero carbon emissions by 2030 and reroute the $50 million it spends each year lobbying against the climate emergency, to instead outline policy action needed to accelerate the shift to renewables
Bernard Looney has a once in a lifetime opportunity to be on the roll call of individuals who helped save planet Earth. That would be one hell of a legacy.
Read more about the campaign against BP in the Spring edition of Connect or check it out online.
Sign the e-petition asking BP to switch to 100% renewable energy – or shut down.
Watch video highlights from the Action.