Pastor's teenage son who defaced Churchill statue 'caused great offence', says judge

Jamie Johnson
·3-min read
Benjamin and Andrew Clark - Aaron Chown/PA 
Benjamin and Andrew Clark - Aaron Chown/PA

The teenage son of a pastor who defaced a statue of Sir Winston Churchill “caused great offence to a lot of people,” a judge said, but escaped a prison sentence and was instead handed a fine.

Benjamin Clark, an 18-year-old Extinction Rebellion activist, was ordered to pay more than £1,500 after graffiting the phrase “is a racist” on the plinth of the wartime Prime Minister’s statue in Parliament Square.

He could have been handed a prison sentence of three months for the offence, and a fine of up to £2,500.

Mr Clark was joined by his father Andrew, a pastor at Hertford Baptist Church, who supported him in the public gallery. Both men have been subjected to abuse and death threats since the incident, the court heard.

The teenager admitted causing £1,642 worth of damage to the statue during the final day of recent climate protests on September 10 - the second time it was defaced in three months.

Churchill Statue - Jonathan Brady/PA
Churchill Statue - Jonathan Brady/PA

During the demonstration, Clark daubed yellow graffiti on the base of the statue under the former Prime Minister's name, adding: "is a racist".

A judge told Clark that he had "caused great offence" and "provoked a strong reaction" but his case was firmly about criminal damage.

Matt Barrowcliffe, prosecuting, told Westminster Magistrates' Court: "Police were present as part of dealing with that demonstration. They observed this defendant spray painting the word racist in yellow paint on the concrete base."

Officers have previously been criticised for their inaction during the event. 

Sir Mike Penning, the former policing and justice minister, told the Telegraph: "Parliament Square is one of the most visual and visited places in the world, there are more cameras than almost anywhere else and they still get away with it.

“They need to stop it there and then and take more robust action immediately. That is what the public expects from them.”

Clark, of Hertford, Herts, sat in the dock wearing a light blue shirt, green tie, and dark blue suit and did not speak except to confirm his identity and enter a guilty plea.

The court heard how the process of cleaning the statue cost £1,642 - however he denied that he caused all the damage.

Sentencing him, District Judge Tan Ikram said: "You are a man aged 18-years-old. You've only recently turned 18 and I very much bear that in mind in dealing with his case.

"You were part of an Extinction Rebellion protest, as a result of which you came into possession of some yellow chalk paint which you then sprayed on the base of the statue.

"You've caused great offence it appears to a lot of people and I'm told it has provoked a very strong reaction.

"The reality is that is part of the consequence of your actions - I have heard that your father has head threatening communications in relation to your behaviour and at court today there are some people who are very upset.

"From where I sit this is criminal damage. This is defacing a listed statue. Tourists from across the world come here and they see the City of London that people like you choose to deface London and, in doing so, you create great expense also to people who pay taxes.

"So beyond the offence you impact every person who has to pay for the upkeep of these statues, do you understand?"

Clark was ordered to pay a £200 fine, along with £1,200 compensation as well as £85 in costs and a £34 victim surcharge.