Judge challenges the Government body taking Greenpeace to court over boulder dumping protest

A Judge has questioned why a Government body charged with protecting the marine environment is taking Greenpeace to court over efforts to stop harmful fishing, saying it “touches on the absurd that this litigation is happening”.

A boulder falling into the English Channel from the MV Esperanza Credit: Suzanne Plunkett/Greenpeace

Judge Edward Bindloss has asked the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) to write to the court by January 26 and say whether it in the public interest to pursue campaigners over dumping boulders in an effort to prevent bottom trawling off Brighton in February 2020.

Actors and broadcasters, including Stephen Fry, Mark Rylance and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, had their names written on the boulders as part of the protest.

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The Brighton marine protected areas was established in 2016 , but in 2019 it was said to be the most heavily fished UK protected area with nearly 7,000 hours of bottom trawling recorded.

The MMO launched a private prosecution saying that Greenpeace had acted without a licence.

However in a ruling on Wednesday Judge Bindloss, sitting at Newcastle Crown Court, said given their aims the two organisations “should be allies not antagonists”.

He had been told there was no evidence the granite boulders were actually harmful to the marine environment.

The MMO’s assessment had revealed that Greenpeace’s actions “were not dangerous.”

And he questioned whether the MMO should be “prosecuting in the name of marine protection”, asking them to consider whether the “licensing regime could be better used as a source of protection against those who actively seek to harm the marine environment”.

Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said it was a “bit of a mystery” why they were being prosecuted.

He said: “Our action was designed to safely protect nature from destructive fishing in an area designated as protected but where the MMO is miserably failing to do the job.

"We’re facing a climate and nature crisis and in response the MMO chose to bury its head in the sand, ignore the threat and prosecute Greenpeace.

“This is a clear signal for the Environment Minister to take the urgent action needed to protect our oceans from industrial fishing and ban destructive ships from all of the UK’s Marine Protected Areas”

A spokesperson for the MMO said: “We note today’s judgment in Newcastle Crown Court, in particular the confirmation that the MMO has jurisdiction in this matter.

“MMO is considering the comments made by the court and will reflect on the matters as requested.”