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Orange paint protest at Stonehenge leads to arrests

Orange paint protest at Stonehenge leads to arrests Environmental protesters spray Stonehenge with orange powder paint, in Wiltshire, Britain, June 19, 2024. (Reuters)
By Newsroom
Jun 19, 2024 10:28 PM

Stonehenge, the iconic 5,000-year-old monument near Salisbury, Wiltshire, was the target of a protest by Just Stop Oil campaigners on Wednesday. Around noon, two activists sprayed orange powder paint on the historic stones, prompting immediate responses from bystanders and authorities.

Wiltshire Police confirmed the arrest of two individuals, Niamh Lynch, a 21-year-old student from Oxford, and Rajan Naidu, a 73-year-old from Birmingham, on suspicion of damaging the ancient monument. Just Stop Oil identified the substance used as cornflour-based powder paint, asserting it would wash away with rain.

The protest occurred just a day before the annual Summer Solstice celebrations at Stonehenge. Despite the incident, English Heritage assured the public that the festivities would continue as planned overnight on Thursday.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak condemned the act as “disgraceful vandalism,” while Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer labeled it “outrageous” and called for those responsible to face legal consequences.

Dale Vince, a Labour donor and previous supporter of Just Stop Oil, also criticized the protest, noting, “I don’t support what JSO did today, it’s that simple.”

Witnesses described the scene as chaotic, with members of the public attempting to intervene. Paul Clifton, a BBC correspondent, reported that the three stones closest to the public path were significantly affected. Despite initial suggestions that the powder might be easily removed, experts will need to assess potential damage, particularly to the prehistoric markings and the site’s unique lichen.

The motivation behind the protest, according to Just Stop Oil, is to pressure the next UK government to cease the extraction and burning of fossil fuels by 2030. A spokesperson for the group emphasized the urgency of their cause, stating, “Continuing to burn coal, oil, and gas will result in the death of millions. We have to come together to defend humanity or we risk everything.”

Just Stop Oil wrote on X claiming that the orange paint was harmless to the monument and was then criticized for desecrating an international heritage site.

Local reactions were mixed, with many expressing anger and disappointment. Mark Verbinnen, councilor for Amesbury East and Bulford, noted that staff members at the site were particularly shaken, and one even attempted to tackle a protester. Mike Pitts, an archaeologist, highlighted the potential for significant damage to the stones, which are covered in ancient markings.

Sean Moran, a guide at Stonehenge, described the incident as “devastating,” expressing concern for the living lichen that biologists study. King Arthur Pendragon, a senior druid and pagan priest, also disapproved of the protest, emphasizing that such actions alienate public sympathy for the cause.

Tourists visiting Stonehenge were also affected. Paul and Elaine Anderson from Newcastle upon Tyne likened the incident to the recent felling of the Sycamore Gap tree, expressing disbelief and frustration. Mike and Julie from the United States shared their disappointment over the path closure, lamenting the impact on their long-anticipated visit.

Wiltshire Police are continuing their investigation in collaboration with English Heritage. Despite the disruption, the Summer Solstice celebrations are set to proceed, with thousands of druids and revelers expected to attend.

Last Updated:  Jun 19, 2024 10:28 PM