International legal practice Osborne Clarke has successfully advised AEG Europe (AEG), the owners of The O2, in respect of obtaining an injunction to restrain urban explorers from trespassing at The O2 and posting videos of their activities on social media.
At the interim hearing in January, Judge Geoffrey Tattersall QC granted an interim injunction to restrain the urban explorers from trespassing but did not go so far as to require the removal of video footage from social media platforms, as this could have raised issues in respect to the urban explorers right to "freedom of expression" under the European Convention of Human Rights.
At the final hearing yesterday the court was persuaded to grant an injunction to restrain both the trespass and publishing of content on social media for a period of 2 years, on the basis that the existence of the footage constituted both a nuisance to AEG, but also in order to terminate the continuing harm from the past trespass.
Urban exploration (i.e. trespassing and climbing upon iconic buildings, often for the purpose of recording dramatic photographs and videos to post on social media platforms) is a relatively new phenomenon.
In deciding the social media content regarding The O2 had to be removed, the Court had to balance the trespassers' rights in relation to freedom of expression (as protected in existing human rights legislation) against the potential harm caused by the uploading of photographs and video footage to social media.
The Osborne Clarke team successfully argued that such footage incites other urban explorers and laypeople to commit copycat acts of trespass – putting security teams and the general public at serious risk to physical injury or death. The team cited an example of a group of 13 year old Dutch schoolchildren, who had travelled for the purpose of emulating a known urban explorer whose video footage of urban exploration at The O2 has been viewed millions of times.
Donal Kelly, Senior Associate at Osborne Clarke, said: "In granting the injunction to not only restrain trespass, but also requiring the removal of the online content from social media, the Court has extended the concept of "inciting others to commit a tortious offence" to videos on social media that demonstrate and encourage dangerous acts of trespass. The right to freedom of expression that urban explorers might rely on should not outweigh the potential for harm to the public, in the event that copy-cat urban exploring resulted in serious injury or death."
Globally, urban exploring has resulted in serious injury and death. By law, the land owner of the property may be liable if it is aware of such danger but does not take steps to prevent it. In light of this, the team were successfully granted a "quia timet" injunction. This means individuals in breach of the injunction automatically face criminal liability, and could face a fine or prison sentence.
Gary Lawrenson said: "The rise of urban exploring is a common problem for owners of landmark sites such as The O2. The granting of the quia timet injunction should serve as an effective deterrent to urban explorers. Quia timet injunctions are very wide-ranging – covering anyone who has the intention of trespassing. The courts are generally reluctant to grant them unless persuaded the threat to life/and or property is high."