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Luke Jones climbs Nelson’s columnvia @Greenpeace / Twitter

Greenpeace deface London monuments in air pollution protest

Eight campaigners for the charity have now been placed under arrest

The air quality in London is worse than it’s ever been. After exceeding its yearly pollution limits within the first eight days of January, the capital’s toxicity levels have quickly become a real cause for concern: with stats claiming that it’s responsible for nearly 10,000 premature deaths a year. Because of this – and because of May’s impending mayoral elections – Greenpeace has decided to take a stand in the most controversial way possible.

In an act of protest this morning, the environmental charity sent a group of campaigners out onto 18 of the city’s most famous statues; including Trafalgar Square’s Nelson’s Column, and the House of Parliament’s Oliver Cromwell. They then proceeded to add air pollution masks to each landmark, in a bid to highlight the capital’s dire pollution problem.

“We've done this because millions of Londoners every day are forced to breathe in toxic air, which is coming from traffic and oil being burnt in our cars,” senior campaigner Areeba Hamid told Dazed. “We wanted to make sure that this invisible but massive threat is seen and noticed by everybody, especially the mayoral candidates in the upcoming election.”

In the most extreme example, two activists were spotted scaling the 52 metre-high Nelson’s Column just after dawn this morning. According to reports in The Guardian, Luke Jones and Alison Garrigan applied the gas mask, and were then forced to spend “several hours” on the top of the monument, before eventually being arrested on suspicion of causing criminal damage. See a video below:

Six other activists have been arrested for similar reasons – though Hamid insists that the utmost care was taken to prevent any lasting damage being done to the monuments. “We took every precaution not to damage any of the statues,” she stresses. “I think there are some trespassing charges that might be discussed, but I am hopeful that police will see the intention behind our act.”

“I think as a world class city, London citizens deserve a better quality of life and that is what we are trying to talk about,” she continues. “If these statues were real living people, they would be breathing in some really bad quality air... We're saying it needs political will and political courage to actually bring about a clean air zone, which will phase out the most polluting vehicles off our roads.”

Other monuments to receive the activists’ gas masks include Parliament Square’s Winston Churchill, Buckingham Palace’s Queen Victoria, Piccadilly Circus’ Eros, and the Emirates stadium’s Thierry Henry.  

Read more about Greenpeace on their website here, and make sure you register to vote for London’s mayoral elections on May 5.