Just Stop Oil activists who protested at World Snooker Championship in Sheffield spared jail

A Just Stop Oil activist who jumped on a table during the World Snooker Championship and covered it with orange powder said his criminal damage conviction was "absolutely worth it" as a judge warned "custody is not far away".

Edred Whittingham, known as Eddie, and his fellow protester Margaret Reid were sentenced to 300 hours of unpaid work between them for the demonstration at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre on April 17 last year.

Home energy adviser Whittingham, 26, interrupted a match between Robert Milkins and Joe Perry by jumping on the table wearing a Just Stop Oil T-shirt and releasing the orange substance before being pulled away by security staff.

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A court heard ex-museum worker Reid, 53, tried to do the same thing on the other table but was tackled by referee Olivier Marteel. Whittingham was found guilty of causing £899.90 damage to a snooker table, and Reid was convicted of attempted criminal damage.

Edred "Eddie" Whittingham after jumping on the table and throwing orange powder at the World Championship in Sheffield. Photo credit: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.Edred "Eddie" Whittingham after jumping on the table and throwing orange powder at the World Championship in Sheffield. Photo credit: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.
Edred "Eddie" Whittingham after jumping on the table and throwing orange powder at the World Championship in Sheffield. Photo credit: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.

On Wednesday District Judge Daniel Curtis sentenced both defendants to community orders at Sheffield Magistrates' Court.

The judge said "many people would be critical" of his decision not to send the pair to prison, but said: "If you continue, as it seems you may well do, to undertake actions that are unlawful albeit expressions of your right to protest - custody is not far away and is almost inevitable. If that doesn't cause you any fear then so be it, but this may be your last opportunity to receive your sentence in the community."

Speaking to reporters outside court, Whittingham said he was willing to go to prison.

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"I've been to prison twice before and it's not going to deter us because we're facing a climate crisis," he said.

Whittingham said the protest got on to the front pages of numerous national newspapers and "got billions of views all around the world", adding "in that context it was absolutely worth it".

He told reporters: "It didn't feel pleasant, I didn't want to jump on the snooker table that day but in the context of hundreds of millions of people dying of starvation, poverty, disease, absolutely it was worth it for the publicity."

A victim impact statement from Simon Brownell, the chief executive of the World Snooker Tour, said the defendants had tried to "destroy" the event "without a care in the world for the thousands of people who had saved their money to attend the event".

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"The only way to protect our cultural and sporting institutions is to impose penalties," he added.

In mitigation for Whittingham, who has a previous conviction for aggravated trespass, the court heard the substance was a "starch-based powder, chosen not to cause maximum damage but simply to have a visual effect as part of the protest".

Representing herself in court, Reid said: "I'm a pretty boring middle-aged person that, like a lot of people, tries to do their best... It would have been much easier to stay at home and pretend my little community was going to be fine."

She told the court: "Actually it's the fossil fuel companies - they are doing reckless criminal damage."

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District Judge Curtis said the protest was meticulously planned "to obtain maximum publicity for the cause you believe in".

He told Whittingham the cost of the criminal damage "pales into insignificance compared to the commercial damage" caused by the demonstration, adding: "It must have been apparent to both of you there would be a wider impact than simply throwing starch powder on to a tablecloth.

"This was an international tournament with thousands in the stadium and millions watching on the television. It must have been obvious to both of you you would cause considerable disruption. It will have been shocking, it will undoubtedly have been disturbing, it will have caused some alarm."

Whittingham, of May Street, Exeter, was sentenced to an 18-month community order with 25 rehabilitation activity days and 200 hours of unpaid work, and ordered to pay £899 compensation and £390 costs.

Reid, of Low Fellside, Kendal, Cumbria, was sentenced to a two-year community order with 10 rehabilitation activity requirement days, 100 hours of unpaid work and £390 costs.