Interviews Walthamstow

Rebel with a cause

A ‘quiet’ Walthamstow retiree and climate activist tells her story after risking prison for holding up a sign defending jury rights outside a trial

By Marco Marcelline

Trudi Warner

Trudi Warner hasn’t always been a rebel. The 69-year-old retired social worker was once in fact a “compliant” child growing
up in a “very authoritarian” household.

“It was easier just to kind of knuckle down and do as I was told,” she says, recalling her strict father and youth spent in Croydon.

Respite would come in the shape of regular visits to an auntie’s sustainable and organic farm in Sussex, where she first became cognisant of the need to value the natural world. “I learnt that if you take something, you put something back. You don’t take, take, take stuff. You have a circular system.”

We’re sat at her Walthamstow home drinking peppermint tea brewed from leaves grown in her gorgeously maintained back garden, as she begins to describe the events that led her to being ravenously pursued by the government’s top law officers.

Sporting a wrist bandage from a recent injury after falling off a bike, Trudi cuts a markedly delicate figure. “My friends are a bit astonished that I’ve become quite so prominent because I’m actually really quiet; I’m not attention-seeking, never have been. And when all this happened and someone said to me, ‘Oh this is going to run,’ I didn’t want to deal with all the media attention.”

Things were kicked off in March last year, when Trudi had held up a sign outside a climate trial at Inner London Crown Court that stated: “Jurors: you have an absolute right to acquit a defendant according to your conscience.”

Trudi was challenging restrictions imposed by Judge Silas Reid on the defendants, all from the activist group Insulate Britain, that prevented them from mentioning climate change or property insulation in their defence.

Some of those who were facing trial were activist friends of hers, and she was irate. “Everybody deserves a fair trial. Every defendant accused of a crime should get a fair trial. It is not a fair trial if you can’t talk about your motivation. That would never happen in a murder trial. Wouldn’t happen in a rape trial. Why would it happen in a climate trial?”

Trudi decided to take action by becoming a “human placard” that reminded jurors of their right to independence; a right that is celebrated with a marble plaque in the corridors of the Old Bailey.

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What was the worst thing she thought would happen to her on the day of her protest? “I thought that the court staff would come out and say to me, ‘you can’t stand there with a placard,’ and confiscate it,” she replies.

No such staff intervened or said anything in the end, and a pleasantly surprised Trudi was able to go home unscathed. The next day, she was called in to help Insulate Britain protesters unfurl a banner outside the court which said ‘Silenced by Silas’.

“I secured the banner and I stood under the [court’s] porch because it was tipping down with rain. I was just standing there, sheltering from the rain, and these policemen ran up the steps past me, and I just thought there was some drama in the courtroom.”

But then the policemen ran back towards her and informed her she was being arrested on the orders of Judge Reid. Trudi was then marched down to the court cells where she says she was repeatedly asked by the “lovely” court staffers to apologise to Judge Reid so she could go home.

She refused every request and was consequently remanded in custody from morning until 6pm that day, at which point Judge Reid told her she would be taken to the Old Bailey.

“It was absolutely bonkers. The plaque about the jurors’ rights is up in the Old Bailey. I thought he’d shot himself in the foot,” she recalls.

It was there at the Old Bailey where it became clear that her silent protest was going to be referred to the Attorney General. She sought advice from the Good Law Project, who told her that it was “very unusual” for the Attorney General [AG] to be refused permission to prosecute.

“They told me, ‘What the AG wants, the AG gets”. And so, Trudi prepared for the worst by packing a jute bag with books and clothes, which still sits in her living room. The government put up a strong fight, with prosecuting lawyer Aidan Eardley KC telling the High Court that prosecution was necessary in order “to maintain public confidence” in the jury system’s independence.

He added that Trudi’s act of holding a sign outside court would be “propagated” by others if she was not prosecuted. But in April, a High Court judge threw out the case against Trudi, claiming that the government’s depiction of her as a troublemaker standing outside court harassing jurors was “fanciful”.

After the ruling, the retired social worker told awaiting reporters that she felt “euphoric”. That euphoria quickly dissipated though, as on 13th May the Attorney General’s Office submitted an application to the Court of Appeal seeking permission to appeal against
the High Court’s decision to throw out the case.

She remains unfazed and determined to take on the judicial arm of the state, however. Showing me the contents of that lightly
dusted prison bag, Trudi declares: “I think if they tried to put me in prison, there would be uproar. It could happen though, and I am prepared for it.”

Is it true that people see a bit of David and Goliath in her situation, I ask? “Yes. There’s this little old lady, you know, who’s up against the state – and actually, she’s winning,” she smiles while putting her bag away.

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