Environmental activists who planned to shut down a coal-fired power station near Nottingham were spared jail today after a judge declared they acted with "the highest possible motives".
The campaigners were in what would have been one of the most audacious protests by green activists in the UK.
Handing down sentences to 18 activists ranging from 18 months' conditional discharge to 90 hours' unpaid work, judge Jonathan Teare conceded the public may consider his sentencing "impossibly lenient". But he said he had been put in a highly unique position given the moral standing of the campaigners.
"You are all decent men and women with a genuine concern for others, and in particular for the survival of planet Earth in something resembling its present form," he said.
"I have no doubt that each of you acted with the highest possible motives. And that is an extremely important consideration."
More than 114 campaigners were , hours before some planned to invade the power station, immobilise the coal conveyer belts and scale the chimney.
The controversial policing operation followed months of surveillance, cost £300,000 and resulted in the largest number of pre-emptive arrests of political activists in the UK. The majority of those arrested were released without charge.
Twenty activists were last month, after failing to convince a jury that their actions were designed to prevent immediate harm to human life and property from .
During their trial at Nottingham crown court, the defendants admitted they planned to break into the plant, but argued they were acting to prevent the greater crimes of death and serious injury caused by climate change.
They claimed that had their succeeded in closing down the power station for a week, they would have prevented the emission of 150,000 tonnes of CO2.
Among the witnesses who appeared for the defence was and one of the first experts to alert the world to the danger of climate change.
, when six Greenpeace activists were acquitted of causing criminal damage after scaling a chimney at Kingsnorth power station the previous year.
However the prosecution questioned the course of action proposed by the activists, arguing that direct action planned would "disengage ordinary people" and asking why they had not instead sought to enlist the support of a celebrities such as Cheryl Cole or Sir Paul McCartney.
Teare said today that he agreed with the jury that while motivated to stop , an "equal aim" was to gain publicity for their campaign.
But he said he had been place in a "unique" position in which "neither judge nor jury need question the veracity and motivation of any defendant".
"There is not one of you who cannot provide glowing references from peers or professionals," he added. "And if I select some of the adjectives that recur throughout they are these: honest, sincere, conscientious, intelligent, committed, dedicated, caring."
Teare said the protest had been "well-considered and well-prepared". "You had come from every corner of the country. Transport, food, clothing, climbing and safety equipment had been organised, costing several thousand pounds."