Two Just Stop Oil activists have been found guilty of causing criminal damage after they glued themselves to the frame of a Vincent van Gogh painting in a London art gallery.
Emily Brocklebank, 24, and Louis McKechnie, 22, caused just under £2,000 worth of damage at the Courtauld Gallery when they bonded over the 1889 work Peach Trees in Blossom, their trial heard on Tuesday.
The 18th-century frame, which predates the painting itself, was permanently damaged, District Judge Neeta Minhas told Westminster Magistrates Court.
“It’s not in a state where it can return to its original state,” she added when she delivered her verdict. “The painting has great historical and art value and I consider the damage to be substantial. It is not small, unimportant, temporary or trivial.”
A lawyer for the activists, who are part of a group that is waging disruptive protests until the government agrees to halt all new oil and gas projects, had asked a gallery curator whether the move might have increased the value of the painting.
“Suppose the institution were to resell it in 20 to 30 years, is it possible that the value will increase now?” Francesca Cociani, defensively, asked Karen Serres, a curator at the gallery.
Serres, who was the only witness in the trial, replied: “Absolutely not”, adding that it would not increase the value of a work as famous as one by Van Gogh.
Such works, which were owned by a trust that held items in the gallery, also could not be sold and were for public display, she added.
CCTV footage was played in court showing the activists walking into the building at around 3:30 pm on June 30 after buying tickets for an exhibition. They then took off their coats to reveal orange Just Stop Oil T-shirts and bonded over the artwork.
Brocklebank, a student from Yeadon, Leeds, was given a 21-day jail sentence, suspended for six months, but is subject to a six-week electronically monitored curfew. McKechnie was jailed for three weeks.
She previously told the court: “When it comes to protesting, just talking doesn’t get a platform. By gluing it gives a story that the media chooses to follow.”
“I didn’t think I would do much damage. Glue comes out.”
She said the painting’s owner would have “agreeed” to the protest, adding: “Any good person would agree to try to sustain life on Earth.”
Jonathan Bryan, prosecutor, said the defendants had claimed they were expressing their rights, under the European Convention, to freedom of expression and assembly, but added that these were qualified rights rather than absolute rights.
Serres previously told the court it took three hours to remove the activists, adding: “There were concerns about how much glue had seeped into the frame and the painting itself.”
There were also concerns about the solvent that the police used to remove the activists, the court heard.
Xavier Gonzales-Trimmer, 21, was originally charged with “distracting the guards” – but they were dropped. However, he was fined for not appearing in court for the first hearing.