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The height of madness? Or a lofty ambition as six women scale Shard to make a point?

Ambitious Greenpeace stunt drew neck-craning crowds and widespread media coverage for protest against Shell’s Arctic drilling

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As Western Europe’s tallest building, the Shard skyscraper in London already gets its fair share of attention. But commuters travelling to work today glimpsed an even more amazing sight: six women scaling the 310m-high landmark in protest against Shell’s drilling in the Arctic.

Taking part in a hugely ambitious Greenpeace stunt that took months to plan, the climbers quickly drew a large crowd of neck-craning, eye-shielding spectators to the foot of the London Bridge building.

“It’s a very brave thing to do, but I can’t quite see how it’s a protest,” said Claire Cooke, from Dereham in Norfolk, who was in London and heard about the event on the radio.

A few metres away, a group of teenagers on a school trip from Blackburn were squinting against the sun at the increasingly small specks of the climbers. “I think it’s a good way to get the point across because it shows real determination,” said Faisal Fareed.

Fellow pupil Alex Cottan disagreed. “The message is too strong and shows too much determination. It’s kind of crazy that they are willing to lose their lives for oil.”

Greenpeace insisted that the climb is perfectly safe because the climbers are experienced and have ropes to break their falls. Informed of this matter, young Mr Cottan and his school mates looked sceptical.

Martin Haitzmann, a businessman in London for work from Salzburg in Austria, also saluted the bravery of the climbers, who come from the UK, Canada, Sweden, Poland, Holland and Belgium.

“I’m a mountain climber myself and I can tell you it takes a lot of courage. I’m very impressed.

“I’ve been walking around here for 50 minutes and there are no banners or posters telling me what this is about. But I suppose that’s a good thing because it makes you want to ask and find out,” he added.

Greenpeace opposes Shell’s proposal to produce oil in the pristine Arctic region – which is still at the planning stage – and used the protest to enhance the “direct action” model they pioneered using the power of social media and the internet.

It beamed live footage of the ascent from climbers’ head cameras through a dedicated website that urged visitors to sign a petition, while an event hashtag encouraged Twitter users to spread word of the stunt.

Climbers were even able to talk to the media as they climbed. One of the group, Victoria Henry, 32, from London, said: “We are all really tired but at the same time energised because we are excited about what we are doing and the top is now in sight. We are just really proud to be raising awareness and that we have managed to get lots of people’s attention.”

She added: “We are still figuring out how to get down.”

Mark Borkowski, a media commentator, said the event marked a step forward for the group. “By choosing this action and this iconic building Greenpeace has created a fantastic story… this one is going viral”, he said

The six climbers gained access to the outside of the 72-storey building at 4.20am by posing as workers for the Thameslink route being built across London. Once past security, their truck trundled straight past London Bridge station next to the Shard, whereupon the roof flipped open and a international group of women jumped out. They used a 10-metre ladder to begin their climb.

Shell said: “We respect the right of individuals and organisations to engage in a free and frank exchange of views about our operations… we only ask that they do so with their safety in mind.”

But while Greenpeace’s stunt was met with widespread awe, not everyone was impressed.

“To be honest, I’m a bit blasé. I’ve got to be here to protect the transport system, it’s just my job,” said a member of the British Transport Police who gave his name as PC 7159.

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