Just Stop Oil protester damaged Vincent Van Gogh painting has compared himself to Martin Luther King in court

23 November 2022, 09:47

The protesters glued themselves to a priceless peice of art
The protesters glued themselves to a priceless peice of art. Picture: JustStop_Oil/Twitter
Fran Way

By Fran Way

A Just Stop Oil protester who glued himself to a Vincent Van Gogh painting has compared himself to Martin Luther King in court.

Louis McKechnie, 22, and Emily Brocklebank, 24, caused about £2,000 worth of damage to the frame of Peach Trees in Blossom at London’s Courthauld Gallery.

Johnathan Bryan, prosecuting, told Westminster Magistrates’ Court how the activists had used super glue to attach their hands to the 18th century painting on June 30.

CCTV shows the pair walking in the building at about 3.30pm after purchasing their tickets for an exhibition.

They then take off their jackets to reveal the orange Just Stop Oil T-Shirts and attach themselves to the artwork.

Mr Bryan said: “They waited until the coast was clear, when the gallery attendants looked away or were perhaps distracted by another member of the group.”

He said the paining, which is worth ‘millions’ was not damaged but the ‘valuable’ frame was, adding: “The defendants say they were expressing their rights, under the European Convention…to freedom of expression…and of assembly.

“They say the exercise of those rights gives them a lawful excuse.

“But these are qualified rights, not absolute rights.”

Brocklebank, from Yeadon in Leeds, appeared in court in person while McKechnie, from Weymouth, Dorset, appeared in custody from HMP Peterborough. Both had denied the charges.

McKechnie was jailed for six-weeks in September when he tied himself to a goalpost a Premier League match between Everton and Newcastle in March, causing the match to be put on hold.

Giving his evidence, McKechnie said: “I believed that a completely logical person who is not a physcopath who owns a painting of this value by Vincent Van Gogh would have respected the artist’s wishes.

“He said himself that the art of nature is not as valuable as nature itself.”

Asked if the protests were getting much public backing, he said: “In 1960, Martin Luther King was the most hated man in America.

“The Civil rights moving still worked. It’s not a popularity contest – people don’t have to like what we’re doing.”

Meanwhile Brocklebank, a student, told the court: “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.

“Any good human would agree with trying to sustain life on Earth.”

Sentencing the pair, District Judge Neeta Minhas said: “An 18th century frame which is hundreds of years old has been permanently damaged.

“It is not in a state where it can return to its original state.”

She added: “The painting has significant, historical and art value and I consider the damage to be substantial.

“It is not minor, insignificant, temporary or trivial.”

She said: “I find you both guilty of criminal damage, having no lawful excuse to cause damage but you did so on a reckless basis.”

Francesca Cociani, defending the pair, said McKechnie believed an owner who “respected the wishes of the painter” would have “consented to minor damage”.

McKechnie was jailed for three weeks, Brocklebank received a 21 day prison sentence suspended for six months. She was also ordered to wear an electronic monitoring tag.

Just Stop Oil are calling for the government to stop issuing new licences for oil and gas companies.

In recent weeks, the group have stepped up their campaigns of ‘civil unrest’ including staging protests on the M25 for more than a week.

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