Just Stop Oil activists convicted of causing criminal damage

Just Stop Oil climate protest group glued their hands to the frame of John Constable's The Hay Wain after first having covered the painting with their own picture at the National Gallery, London
Just Stop Oil climate protest group glued their hands to the frame of John Constable's The Hay Wain after first having covered the painting with their own picture at the National Gallery, London

The protesters inflicted more than £1,000 of damage to John Constable’s painting The Hay Wain

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Two climate protesters who inflicted more than £1,000 of damage to John Constable’s painting The Hay Wain must compensate the National Gallery after being convicted of causing criminal damage.

Hannah Hunt, 23, and Eben Lazarus, 22, taped printed posters of a “dystopian version” of the artwork on to the painting before gluing their hands to its frame in the National Gallery on July 4, this year.

The Hay Wain, which was painted in 1821, shows a rural Suffolk scene of a wagon returning to the fields across a shallow ford for another load.

Eco-protesters Hannah Hunt (right) and Eden Lazarus arrive at Westminster Magistrates' Court, central London, charged with causing £1081.49 of criminal damage
Eco-protesters Hannah Hunt (right) and Eden Lazarus arrive at Westminster Magistrates' Court, central London, charged with causing £1081.49 of criminal damage

Hunt and Lazarus were each convicted by a district judge of causing criminal damage at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday.

Their actions were associated with climate change campaign group Just Stop Oil (JSO).

In July, the pair entered the gallery with three others who distracted security officers so that the defendants could tape three printed posters of a “dystopian version of Constable’s painting” onto the canvas.

Hunt and Lazarus then glued their hands to the frame before delivering a short speech to people in the gallery.

The painting was taken to be restored at the cost of £1,081 and fitted with a glass sheet before it was re-exhibited the next morning.

The pair argued that Articles 10 and 11 under the European Convention of Human Rights – the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly respectively – gave them lawful excuse for their actions, but this was rejected.

District Judge Daniel Sternberg said the damage caused was “significant not trivial” and that the defendants “were reckless” and caused it “without lawful excuse”.

He sentenced each of them with a conditional discharge for a period of 18 months and ordered that they pay the National Gallery £540.74 each in compensation, totalling the cost of the damage.

The judge added that if they committed any further offences within that time frame they were liable to have the matter “reopened” and the court could send them “to prison”.

Eco-protesters Hannah Hunt (right) and Eden Lazarus arrive at Westminster Magistrates' Court, central London, charged with causing £1081.49 of criminal damage to John Constable's The Hay Wain painting and frame at the National Gallery on July 4
Eco-protesters Hannah Hunt (right) and Eden Lazarus arrive at Westminster Magistrates' Court, central London, charged with causing £1081.49 of criminal damage to John Constable's The Hay Wain painting and frame at the National Gallery on July 4

Judge Sternberg also gave Hunt and Lazarus conditional discharges for gluing themeselves to the forecourt of a service station on the M25 in Oxted, Surrey, on April 28, this year.

They both pleaded guilty to aggravated trespass in relation to that demonstration.

Other protesters at the site allegedly caused more than £12,000 of damage after wrecking pumps and spray painting the station, the court heard.

Hunt has three previous convictions – breaching conditions imposed on a public assembly in February 2020 and two counts of aggravated trespass earlier this year.

Lazarus has two previous convictions for two counts of aggravated trespass in September and November this year.

Hunt and Lazarus, both of High Street, Trowbridge, Wiltshire, denied but were convicted of causing criminal damage.