The two Just Stop Oil protesters who attached themselves to the Vincent Van Gogh work, Peach Trees in Blossom, have been convicted of criminal damages at a Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday. Both Emily Brocklebank, 24, and Louis McKechnie, 22, accepted the charge but denied intentionally damaging the 18th century frame housing the Dutch artist’s piece.
CCTV played in their trial showed Brocklebank and McKechnie entering the Courtauld Gallery and taking off their jackets to reveal orange Just Stop Oil t-shirts as they poured glue on their hands. A third protestor, Xavier Gonzales-Trimmer, 21, was said by the prosecution to have distracted security while the pair glued themselves on, but charges were dropped against him.
Representatives for the Covent Garden based gallery alleged that the actions of the two had caused permanent and substantial damage to the frame of the Van Gogh work, which dates back to the 18th century. Defending lawyer Francesca Cociani stated that “both defendants believe it was a proportionate response given the severity of the climate crisis and the lightness of the damage and the exorbitant profits of the trust”.
“The defendants had no intention to cause permanent or transient damage, the intention was to gain media attention to their cause. The point remains, the damage was completely trivial. Unless someone knows what has happened and where, it is practically impossible to tell” Cociani continued. During the trial both Brocklebank and McKechnie claimed the owners of the painting, the Samuel Courtauld Trust, would have consented to their protest had they understood it.
But when passing down her sentence, District Judge Neeta Minhas did not agree with the arguments made by the defence; “I find that the damage to the frame is something that cannot be washed away. The damage caused has been replaced by something similar but different. The frame has changed forever.
“An 18th century frame, which is 100 years old, has been permanently damaged. It is not in a state where it can be returned to its original state. In the context of the type of item this is, with its significant historical and art value, I consider the damage to be substantial, it is not insignificant, not minor, not temporary and not trivial,” she concluded.
McKechnie, who is on remand awaiting trial for another alleged offence, was jailed for three weeks while Brocklebank, a student, also received three weeks jail, suspended for six months. Brocklebank is also subject to curfew for six weeks and must spend each night between two addresses in Manchester and Leeds, as well as pay £1,000 in compensation to the gallery.
Both activists have already received several fines and convictions this year for protesting and McKechnie was recently given a six-week jail sentence for invading the football pitch at Goodison Park and tying his neck to the goalpost.