Two Extinction Rebellion climate protesters who sprayed green paint on the Daily Telegraph offices have been convicted of criminal damage after a district judge found the costs of cleaning it up were not “minor or trivial”.
Matthew Hempstock, 49, and Benedict Mango, 56, were “caught green-handed” when they sprayed the substance at the newspaper’s headquarters on 22 March.
Their trial at City of London Magistrates’ Court on Monday heard fellow activists used bottles of water to try to clean up some of the damage the substance caused to the pavement and window ledge.
The paint needed to be cleaned up three times, cost more than £3,000 to remove and the building in Victoria, London is not in the condition it was in before the protest, the hearing was told.
Prosecutor Jonathan Bryan said: “The two defendants went to the Daily Telegraph building and they used fire extinguishers to spray green paint on the front of the building, which went mainly on the glass windows and doors. Some went into the stonework as well.
“Police were called when it was seen what they were doing. Police arrived and they found Mr Hempstock and Mr Mango outside the building with fire extinguishers.
“They had green paint on their hands. You could say they were caught green-handed.
“They were arrested by the police and taken to the police station.”
Elizabeth Onaji, who works as a front of house manager, said in her evidence that the building was cleaned first by emergency cleaners who arrived later that day and hosed down the windows, two weeks later when higher arches were cleaned but the stonework could not be, and a third time to clean the stonework more thoroughly.
“Very faint” marks remain on the building, the court was told.
It will also cost at least £2,000 to replace a layer of anti-graffiti material which was washed off during the protest, the witness said.
Most people in the building had to use a back exit in the hours after the protest, the trial heard.
She told the court: “From what I remember there were two other ladies, they didn’t look like they had sprayed the paint – they were part of the group, they had trolleys that you would take from shopping and two-litre bottles filled with water.
“I saw them pouring it on the ground in an attempt to wash off some [of the paint on the pavement].
“They were also asking if we had a broom so we could brush it off a bit more.
“The first lady… she said ‘okay, it would be easier if we had a broom, do you have a broom?’ I didn’t say anything to her.
“They should not have done that to our building, it is not up to us to provide this.”
When the prosecutor asked whether their cleaning operation was effective, the witness replied: “It was not very effective to be honest.”
Both defendants told the court they had not intended to cause the damage to the stonework.
Hempstock said in his evidence that he wanted to “amplify the message” of the newspaper’s “culpability for spreading misinformation about the climate emergency”.
Mango told the court the site was “very carefully researched” and that the group had taken care to make sure the paint they used was washable.
He later appeared emotional as he told the court he took part in the protest because “climate change affects all of us” and accused the newspaper of “publishing articles that undermine the science”.
District Judge Steven Jonas told them they had “gone to very significant efforts” to minimise the consequences of the action but had been “reckless” as to whether the paint would cause more damage than they intended.
The pair had admitted spraying the paint but denied one count each of causing criminal damage to property valued under £5,000, claiming their actions were lawful.
The judge added: “The cost of doing the work, in my judgment, was not minor or trivial.
“I have considered the cases against each of you separately and find each of you guilty of the charges you face.”
They were both given a conditional discharge and must also pay £275 compensation, £465 in costs plus a £26 victim surcharge each.
The Telegraph’s reporting of the hearing was headlined: “‘Reckless’ XR activists walk free after paint attack on Telegraph offices.”
Extinction Rebellion protesters also spray-painted the London offices of the Daily Mail and Sun owner News UK on the same day in March.
Previous attacks by the climate protest group on newspapers have included the blockade of the Newsprinters printing works in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire in September 2020 which led to £1m losses as News UK, Mail, Telegraph and Evening Standard newspapers could not be delivered, as well as the dumping of manure outside the Daily Mail’s offices in June 2021 and the smashing of windows at News UK a year later.
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