Like most people, I believe in the right to protest, but I disagree strongly with Brendan O'Neill's belief that that right includes the right to invade private property and cause criminal damage.
I may not agree with a word they say, but I sincerely hope that the six Greenpeace protesters accused of causing criminal damage to Kingsnorth power station in Kent are found not guilty.
Why should they be found not guilty? They were caught red-handed and have made no attempt to deny that they did indeed cause criminal damage. They are clearly guilty and, if there is any chance that the rule of law may yet prevail in this country, then they should be punished accordingly.
The six are on trial at Maidstone Crown Court for causing £30,000 of damage after they daubed the word "Gordon" on a smokestack chimney (they had planned to write "Gordon, bin it", but were arrested before they could finish the job). The right to protest has taken quite enough of a battering under New Labour without some forms of protest now being recast as "criminal damage".
O'Neill completely rewrites the definition of "right to protest". No one tried to deny them that right, but these criminals masquerading as "protesters" did more than just protest. They invaded private property and deliberately damaged that property. What O'Neill ignores is suggesting is that the "right to protest" supercedes property rights and that the law should not protect property owners from having protesters rampaging across their property.
Imagine that this was just a neighbourhood dispute. By O'Neill's argument someone who has a grievance with their neighbour has every right to walk onto that neighbour's property and daub slogans over their house, car, garden, dog, whatever.
That is clearly stupid. That would be criminal damage and they would clearly be arrested, charged and prosecuted - as they should be. And these protesters whom O'Neill seems to think should be let off are no different from that. The law is supposed to be impartial and the rule of law includes the notion that no one is above the law - no matter how important the lawbreaker considers the moral issue in question.
The right to protest is important, but nowhere near as important as the right to property and the rule of law. I find it very disconcerting that a supposedly conservative newspaper like the Telegraph employs a columnist who openly espouses the belief that the rule of law should be over turned.