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Three Extinction Rebellion activists acquitted over press protests 

Three more Extinction Rebellion protesters have been acquitted for their part in demonstrations that blockaded newspaper printing plants last year.

Katie Ritchie-Moulin, 22, Harrison Radcliffe, 21, and Luca Vitale, 22, were among 81 people arrested outside printers in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, and Knowsley, Merseyside, on 4 September.

The trio admitted sitting on top of a van blocking the entrance to the Newsprinters plant in Knowsley. But they were found not guilty of aggravated trespass after the prosecution failed to prove they were parked on private land.

Earlier in April six other Extinction Rebellion protesters were cleared of causing criminal damage to Shell’s London headquarters despite the judge directing jurors that the defendants had no defence in law.

At a trial at Liverpool magistrates court earlier this week, district judge Paul Healey acquitted the Knowsley protesters after taking evidence from Alan Griffiths, a manager at the printing press, who was “unable to say with certainty” where the boundary between public and private land lay.

The blockaded presses print the Sun, Times, Sun on Sunday and Sunday Times, as well as the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, and the Evening Standard.

The protest prevented 1,100 retailers from receiving newspapers and reportedly cost publishers £1.2m. It was criticised at the time as an attack on the free press by Boris Johnson, and condemned by the Society of Editors as an “attempt to silence other voices”.

Speaking after her acquittal, Ritchie-Moulin, a biomedical science student at Leeds University, said: “I think a free press is absolutely essential to our society. But that isn’t what we have in the UK … The printed press is almost entirely controlled by four billionaires who basically are then given the right to peddle their opinions and views to the public without any accountability.”

She said she objected to the way much of the media reported the climate crisis, noting that “James Murdoch called out his own dad about how they’ve peddled climate denial”, but also issues surrounding asylum seekers and refugees.

The media barons were too close to government, she said: “There were 206 meetings between [Rupert] Murdoch and his officials and the Tory government between 2018 and 19. And we can’t see the records so we don’t know what was discussed, and we’ll never know. Unelected officials having that much power just isn’t part of functioning democracy.”

The acquittals come as the Home Office plans controversial changes to legislation, which would give chief constables tough powers to limit static protests, such as those used by Extinction Rebellion.

Priti Patel, the home secretary, told the Daily Mail: “The free press is a cornerstone of our democracy, and the disruptive and frankly dangerous tactics deployed by these individuals last year were totally unacceptable. I speak with the police day in, day out and they’ve told me the current legislation used for managing protests is not fit for purpose.”

The not guilty verdicts may affect the trials of other protesters charged in connection with the print plant protests. More than 20 people are awaiting magistrates court trials for their part in the Knowsley demonstration.

Hertfordshire police charged 51 people with a different offence, obstruction of the highway, over the Broxbourne printworks protest on the same night.

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