Three environmental activists are believed to be the first people to receive jail sentences for an anti-fracking protest in the UK.
Simon Roscoe Blevins, 26, and Richard Roberts, 36, were given 16 months in prison and Richard Loizou, 31, got 15 months on Wednesday after being convicted of causing a public nuisance by a jury at Preston crown court in August. Another defendant, Julian Brock, 47, was given a 12-month suspended sentence after pleading guilty to the same offence.
The four men were charged after taking part in a four-day direct action protest that blocked a convoy of trucks carrying drilling equipment from entering the Preston New Road fracking site near Blackpool.
Workhouse writes –
It appears that Judge Altman felt justice was satisfied when he gave a 40 month “suspended” sentence to a man convicted of possession of 10,000 child and animal abuse images.
684 of those images were in the most serious category and 228 were extreme pornography, depicting animal abuse but then he did not cost any corporation money, so obviously a less serious offence.
A barrister for one of the men told Preston crown court that they would become the first environmental activists to receive jail sentences for staging a protest in the UK since the mass trespass on Kinder Scout in the Peak District in 1932, which marked the beginning of the right-to-roam movement. Activists have previously been given jail sentences for charges related to their protests, like breaking injunctions and contempt of court.
At about 3.18pm, Blevins, a soil scientist from Sheffield, also climbed on to one of the lorries. In the early hours of the following morning, Brock, from Torquay, also climbed on to a lorry in the convoy.
Fellow protesters threw blankets, food and water up to the men as they camped out on the vehicles. Loizou came down on 27 July at 5.10am after 45 hours. Blevins did the same at 4.45pm on 28 July, having spent just over 73 hours on his lorry. Roberts descended at 8.13pm the same day, after 84 hours. Brock did not climb down from his lorry until 29 July at 11.35am, after an estimated 76 hours.
The site near Preston New Road has been a focal point for protests since the government overturned a decision by Lancashire county council and gave the energy firm Cuadrilla consent to extract shale gas at two wells on the site in October 2016. More than 300 protesters have been arrested since Cuadrilla began constructing a fracking pad at the site in January 2017.
The company has said fracking is likely to start within the next few weeks, confirming on Monday that 28 lorries had brought fracking equipment to the site.
Sentencing the men, the judge, Robert Altham, said he thought the three men posed a risk of reoffending and could not be rehabilitated as “each of them remains motivated by an unswerving confidence that they are right”. He added: “Even at their trial they felt justified by their actions. Given the disruption caused in this case, only immediate custody can achieve sufficient punishment.”
He said that while the defendants were motivated by a serious concern for the environment, they saw the public as “necessary and justified collateral damage”.
Members of the men’s families sitting in the public gallery burst into tears when the verdicts were read out. They sang a song described as a “native tribal song of power” and blew kisses to them as they were led out of the dock.
Speaking for the prosecution, Craig MacGregor said the police argued that the demonstration resulted in significant travel disruption, causing the road to be closed initially until a contraflow was established. Police said local residents had had their lives disrupted and local businesses suffered a loss of trade. MacGregor said lorry drivers were told to stay with their cabs and were unable to return home. He said the protest had cost the police £12,000 and Cuadrilla approximately £50,000.
Kirsty Brimelow QC, the head of the international human rights team at Doughty St Chambers, representing Roberts on a pro-bono basis, told the judge it had been a peaceful and political protest. She said the right to freedom of speech went beyond “simply standing and shouting” and extended to non-violent direct action.
Brimelow said the fact that central government had overturned the local council to reject Cuadrilla’s fracking application demonstrated that “political process has been exhausted”. She added that “there has been no environmental protester sentenced to jail since 1932”.
“It is relevant that there is a huge amount of scientific study that points to the damage of increasing climate emissions,” she said, referencing intergovernmental climate panel findings that climate change would displace 75 million people by 2035 and lead to the extinction of one in four species by 2050.
Speaking outside the courts after the sentencing, Blevins’ mother, Rosalind Blevins, said: “We are all absolutely devastated by the sentences they have received. My son, like the others, was protesting against fracking because of his deep concern about climate change, which would more appropriately be called climate chaos … I am proud of him and of them for standing up for what is so, so important for all of us.”