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Anti-Shell sleepover protest at London's Science Museum ends with police threatening to arrest demonstrators

Youth climate activists claim that the "museum would rather have kids arrested than drop their polluting sponsors"

Protestors outside the Science Museum this weekend © Gareth Harris

A group of youth climate activists staging a protest against the oil company Shell at the Science Museum in South Kensington, London, were threatened with arrest by the Metropolitan police. Members of the London branch of the UK Student Climate Network planned to “sleepover” at the South Kensington institution at the weekend as part of a protest against the flagship climate exhibition Our Future Planet, which is sponsored by the Anglo-Dutch oil group.

The demonstrators posted a picture of the police inside the museum on Instagram. The social media post says: “More than 30 cops to harass and threaten to arrest 20 teenagers and scientists. The Science Museum would rather have kids arrested than drop their polluting sponsors but we will not be silenced.”

One of the protestors, who preferred to remain anonymous, tells The Art Newspaper that the group began live streaming from the museum around 1pm on Saturday outside Our Future Planet. People entering the gallery were encouraged to write their opinions about the Shell partnership on post-it notes which were placed on the floor.

“At around 5pm, some of us went up to the third floor and did a banner drop. We then headed downstairs and set up spaces to sleep. We told the museum [about the sleepover] and were talking constantly to museum security,” the protestor says.

He claims that museum security then notified the group that they planned to call the police. “We made a group decision to stay but then spotted around 30 police officers who told us, ‘we have enough [officers] to arrest every one of you’,” he adds. A statement from the Metropolitan Police says that they were “called at 18.20 on Saturday after a number of protestors entered the Science Museum”.

Footage posted on Twitter shows a police officer telling a demonstrator that if he is found guilty of aggravated trespass, “it will be on your record forever… if you want to travel to other countries, it will have a significant effect on your ability to do that.”

None of the protestors were arrested and decided to leave the museum around 8.50pm. A spokesperson for the Science Museum says that its 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,” she adds.

The Student Climate Network continued protesting on Sunday outside the Science Museum, distributing leaflets that ask, “Why is the Science Museum letting [Shell] greenwash their reputation through sponsorship deals?”

One of the group's banners © Gareth Harris

The Science Museum group faced a wave of criticism from scientists and environmentalists when the sponsorship deal with Shell was announced in April. Ian Blatchford, the director and chief executive of the Science Museum Group, said previously in a statement that "[the group] is transparent about its long-standing relationship with a limited number of energy companies and how, in all such partnerships, we retain editorial control…. our new exhibition Our Future Planet looks at both the cutting-edge technologies and nature-based solutions being developed to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and makes clear that, alongside reducing carbon emissions, carbon capture and storage can be one contribution in the fight against climate change."