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The Role of The Crown Prosecution Service

The Crown Prosecution Service is the government department responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated by the police in England and Wales.

As the principal prosecuting authority in England and Wales, we are responsible for:

  • advising the police on cases for possible prosecution
  • reviewing cases submitted by the police
  • determining any charges in more serious or complex cases
  • preparing cases for court
  • presenting cases at court

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Drax Power Station protestors committed criminal act not peaceful demonstration


The defendants in this case were invited by the Director of Public Prosecutions to appeal against their convictions in July 2012. The convictions were quashed by the Court of Appeal in January 2014.

Twenty-seven protestors who stopped a train delivering coal to Drax Power Station in Yorkshire committed a well planned and executed crime, not a peaceful demonstration about the environment, said Chief Crown Prosecutor for North Yorkshire, Rob Turnbull.

At Leeds Crown Court, five defendants pleaded guilty to obstructing an engine or carriage using a railway and 22 were found guilty of the same charge following a trial, after they stopped a train bringing coal to Drax Power Sation and occupied it for 16 hours in June 2008.

Mr Turnbull said: "While the CPS respects the rights of individuals to lawfully protest, it takes a serious view of criminal activity which targets those carrying out lawful activities.

"This was not a peaceful demonstration about the environment, but a well planned and executed crime where two defendants impersonated railway employees and went onto the trackside to stop a train lawfully delivering coal to the power station.

"The rest of the group, who took control of the engine and train, attached lines to the wheels to stop the train moving and unloaded coal off the train."

The protestors claimed that they were acting to prevent a greater crime being committed, that of the power station contributing to global warming, and their actions were necessary for the purpose of avoiding or preventing death or serious injury to others and that such death and serious injury was imminent. However, a judge ruled at an earlier hearing that this was not a defence in this case.

Mr Turnbull said: "There was legal argument before the trial started on whether the protestors could claim a defence which is known as "duress of circumstances" or necessity, where someone commits a criminal act to prevent a greater criminal act being committed. The protestors also wanted to call experts on global warming to underline the consequences of burning fossil fuels.

"After hearing from both the prosecution and the defence, the judge ruled that this defence was not available to the defendants as they were in no immediate danger and nor was anyone else, and consequently evidence from the experts should not be allowed.

"The judge said that if the power station contributed to global warming, and all that entailed, it was for the Government to attend to and not the protestors. He also said that no reasonable jury could conclude that the crime these defendants allegedly committed was either reasonable or proportionate when there were democratic processes available in this country for political change.

"The right to protest is an important aspect of a democratic society but when people cross the line into criminal activity they should be aware they may well find themselves facing prosecution."


  1. Media enquiries by email :CPS Press Office or by phone: 020 7796 8180, Out of hours pager: 07699 781926.
  2. Twenty-nine protestors were arrested after the incident. Of these, five entered guilty pleas before the trial started, 22 were found guilty and two defendants have so far not entered pleas.
  3. The defendants were all charged with Obstructing an Engine or a Carriage using a Railway, contrary to s36 of the Malicious Damage Act, 1861. The maximum sentence is two years.
  4. The incident took place on 13 June 2008 near Rawcliffe, Yorkshire.
  5. The Crown Prosecution Service is the independent authority responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated by the police in England and Wales. It is responsible for:
    • Advising the police and reviewing the evidence on cases for possible prosecution
    • Deciding the charge where the decision is to prosecute
    • Preparing cases for court
    • Presenting cases at court
  6. The CPS consists of 42 Areas in total, each headed by a Chief Crown Prosecutor (CCP). In addition there are four specialised national divisions: Organised Crime, Special Crime, Counter-Terrorism and the Fraud Prosecution Service. A telephone service, CPS Direct, provides out-of-hours advice and decisions to police officers across England and Wales. The CPS employs around 8,400 people and prosecuted 1,091,250 cases with an overall conviction rate of 85.1% in 2007-2008. Further information can be found on our website.

    More about the CPS

  7. The CPS, together with ACPO and media representatives, has developed a Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media. This sets out the type of prosecution material that will normally be released, or considered for release, together with the factors we will take into account when considering requests.

    Publicity and the Criminal Justice System protocol