Two Just Stop Oil activists have been found guilty of causing criminal damage after glueing themselves to the frame of a Vincent van Gogh painting at a London art gallery.
Emily Brocklebank, 24, and Louis McKechnie, 22, caused just under £2,000 of damage at the Courtauld Gallery when they attached themselves to the 1889 work Peach Trees in Blossom, their trial heard on Tuesday.
The 18th-century frame, which is older than the painting itself, had been permanently damaged, District Judge Neeta Minhas told Westminster magistrates court.
“It is not in a state where it can return to its original state,” she added as she delivered her verdict. “The painting has significant, historical and art value and I consider the damage to be substantial. It is not minor, insignificant, temporary or trivial.”
A lawyer for the activists, who are part of a group waging disruptive protests until the government agrees to halt all new oil and gas projects, had asked a curator for the gallery if the action may have increased the value of the painting.
“Say the institute was to sell it on in 20 to 30 years, is it possible its value would now increase?” Francesca Cociani, defending, asked Karen Serres, a curator at the gallery.
Serres, who was the sole witness in the trial, replied: “Absolutely not,” adding that a work so famous as one by Van Gogh would not increase in value as a result.
Such works, which were owned by a trust which held items displayed at the gallery, could also not be sold and were intended for public display, she added.
CCTV footage was played to the court showing the activists walking into the building at about 3.30pm on 30 June after buying tickets for an exhibition. They then took off their jackets to reveal orange Just Stop Oil T-shirts and attached themselves to the artwork.
Brocklebank, a student from Yeadon, Leeds, received a 21-day sentence, suspended for six months, but is subject to an electronically monitored six-week curfew. McKechnie was jailed for three weeks.
She told the court earlier: “When it comes to protesting, just speaking does not get a platform. By gluing, it gives a story which the media chooses to follow.”
“I didn’t think I would cause much damage. Glue comes off.”
She said the painting’s owner would have “consented” to the protest, adding: “Any good human would agree with trying to sustain life on Earth.”
Jonathan Bryan, prosecuting, said that the defendants had claimed they were expressing their rights, under the European convention, to freedom of expression and of assembly, but he added that these were qualified rights rather than absolute ones.
Serres told the court earlier that it took three hours for the activists to be removed, adding: “There were concerns over how much of the glue had seeped into the frame and the painting itself.”
There were also worries about the solvent used by police to remove the activists, the court heard.
Xavier Gonzales-Trimmer, 21, originally faced the same charges after being accused of “distracting the guards” – but they were dropped. However, he was fined for failing to appear at the court for a first hearing.