Science Museum climate protesters criticise 'intimidating' response - Museums Association

Science Museum climate protesters criticise ‘intimidating’ response

Group planned overnight occupation but were threatened with arrest
Profile image for Geraldine Kendall Adams
Geraldine Kendall Adams
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Protestors demonstrate against Shell sponsorship at the Science Museum, 19 June
Protestors demonstrate against Shell sponsorship at the Science Museum, 19 June Rob Fassbender

A group of climate protestors who attempted to stage an overnight occupation of London’s Science Museum have criticised the institution for its response to the demonstration.

The group of around 20 people, made up of members of the UK Student Climate Network (UKSCN) and Scientists for Extinction Rebellion, were campaigning against the Science Museum Group’s (SMG) ongoing relationship with the fossil fuel giant Shell.

They entered the building at 5.30pm on Saturday and planned to stage a 24-hour livestream from within the museum featuring talks by international climate campaigners. They also intended to make and display new placards in protest at the museum’s decision to include placards from a 2019 youth climate strikes in its Shell-sponsored Our Future Planet exhibition, which they say were displayed without permission.

The group brought sleeping bags, supplies and a composting toilet into the museum. More than 40 police officers attended the museum and the protest was brought to an end around 9pm. Video footage shows police threatening protesters with arrest.

Protesters say they felt “intimidated” by the response and were surprised that the museum had not respected their right to stage a peaceful protest, unlike previous overnight occupations staged at other national museums.

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In a blog for Climate Home News following the protest, Izzy Warren, a member of UKSCN, wrote: “On Saturday night we saw how far the museum is willing to go to protect this sponsorship deal. It called more than 40 police officers to arrest and remove peaceful protesters. Young people. Scientists. The people that the museum is meant to be there for.

“The Science Museum stands alone right now. Both by accepting oil sponsorship, something that so many other cultural institutions now refuse to do, and by calling the police and refusing to facilitate peaceful overnight protests like the British Museum did in 2020 and the Tate in 2015.”

Warren said the occupation was planned as a last resort, writing. “We had tried all of the ‘acceptable’ tactics. We signed petitions, wrote letters, called a boycott and held a protest outside the museum, but the director and board of trustees ignored us and continued to justify and excuse the sponsorship, leaving us with no choice but to do more.”

A spokeswoman for the SMG said: “Our onsite team calmly facilitated some protest activities within the museum for around five hours on Saturday afternoon. When the museum closed, the group of protesters was asked to leave in line with our duty of care for the health and safety of everyone in the building. The group peacefully left the museum just before 9pm.”

The protesters say they “will not back down” and plan to continue campaigning against oil sponsorship at the institution.

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