JAILED FOR PEACEFUL PROTEST AGAINST FRACKING: A FURTHER SLIP INTO FASCISM
Tuesday 25 September 2018 saw three anti-fracking campaigners take their place in protest history, having been handed Draconian prison sentences for protesting against fracking wannabes, Cuadrilla.
Their protest involved climbing on top of lorries that were bound for Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site, on the Fylde Coast, where protests against fracking have been ongoing for over 18 months and clocking-up 350+ arrests. They stayed up on top of the lorry cabs for four days, supported by locals who passed them food and clothing.
Campaigners Simon Roscoe Blevins and Richard Roberts, were given 16-month custodial sentences and Richard Loizou, received a 15-month jail term. A fourth man, Julian Brock, received a 12-month suspended sentence, bound over for 18-months. The decision, handed down by Judge Robert John Altham, was unprecedented and wholly disproportionate to the offence they had committed.
A seven-day trial by jury at Preston Crown Court was held in August 2018, where the four campaigners were charged with and found guilty by a jury, of Public Nuisance. The Judge warned them that they should expect “immediate custodial sentences”.
However, during the trial, none of the defendants were allowed opportunities to outline their concerns over fracking, its link to climate change or how supported they were from the community around Preston New Road, near Blackpool.
During sentencing this week, Judge Robert John Altham stated, whilst justifying his decision to impose an immediate prison sentence:
“I do find they provide a risk of re-offending.Each of them remains motivated by unswerving confidence that they are right. Even at their trial they felt justified by their actions.
“Given the disruption caused in this case, only immediate custody can achieve sufficient punishment.”
Some reactions from notable accounts on Twitter:
“This Won’t Break Us”
Before the final judgement, Simon Roscoe Blevins, 26 and a Soil Scientist said:
“This won’t break us, we will come out stronger. Some may view us as victims, but we refuse to be victimised by this. The real victims will be future generations suffering preventable disasters caused by climate change.
“Our friends and fellow campaigners outside will continue to fight for a ban on fracking and for a just transition to a renewable and democratically owned energy system.”
Richard Roberts, 36 and a piano restorer, said prior to sentencing:
“While on top of the lorry I received overwhelming support for my actions from local residents, campaigners and numerous motorists. This support was a large part of the reason I remained there for so long. I was there to support and care for the local people.
“Our government is failing to move us away from fossil fuels and to prevent runaway climate change. I acted out of conscience to prevent far-reaching harm to future generations.”
Richard Loizou, 31, a teacher, was supported by two of his pupils, who travelled from Devon at 02.00hrs with their mothers to be in Preston to stand in solidarity with Loizou. Tina Lynam, one of the parents, said:
“Richard has taught my son for the last two years and is an inspirational mentor and beautiful soul. We are shocked and deeply upset by what is happening here, and felt compelled to come and offer our support today.”
The sentencing came just one day after a mass convoy of around 30 HGVs carrying fracking equipment was delivered to the site in the early hours of the morning, accompanied by a detail of Lancashire’s finest police officers, facilitating a private company’s occupation of a Lancashire community.
Kirsty Brimelow QC acting for one of the men, spoke about applying a proportional judicial sentence. She stated:
“The defendants have criminal convictions. It was submitted that it would be disproportionate to impose a further criminal penalty and the court, respectfully, is directed to consideration of conditional discharges or fines – which also maintains parity to the treatment of other protestors.
“The court has to act proportionally when dealing with protest cases. The depth of feeling and the motivation of the defendants is relevant. These are very big issues that people feel very strongly about; not just for themselves but for future generations.”
This isn’t the first custodial sentences imposed on environmental protestors, however. 1932 saw a mass trespass by ramblers at Kinder Scout, in a protest over the ‘right to roam’ across open country. Violent scuffles broke out between the 400+ ramblers and gamekeepers, which resulted in jail terms of up to six months.
In 1993, seven protestors were sentenced to 28 days in jail for breaking an injunction to prevent them from protesting against the Department of Transport’s road construction of the M3 at Twyford Down, Hampshire. More arrests and jail terms were also imposed later on, during the Newbury Bypass protests.
Rebecca Lush, one of the campaigners who served her sentence in HMP Holloway, said that Lord Justice Hoffman told them:
“Civil disobedience on the ground of conscience is an honourable tradition in this country and those who take part in it may well be vindicated by history.”
Fracking Is a Vote Loser
Fracking is once again a hot topic for the Conservative government. With industry-pushed consultations out on making fracking part of the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) regime under the Planning Act 2008 and whether to allow non-hydraulic exploratory drilling for shale gas to be considered as Permitted Development (PD) – both bypassing local communities and democratic scrutiny – this overbearing insistence on forcing such an unpopular and dangerous extraction technique onto unwilling communities has raised heads within the Conservative Party themselves.
Tory MPs who have constituencies in licence areas are gathering momentum against their own party, with around 20 Conservative MPs threatening to revolt against the government’s plans. A recent debate in Westminster hosted by Lee Rowley MP, sparked fury from fellow MPs, who declared the plans to be unacceptable. Conservative Mark Menzies, MP for Fylde constituency where Cuadrilla is about to frack stated:
“The proposals that the government have laid before us are, quite frankly, bonkers.”
Conservative MP, Nick Herbert, for Arundel and South Downs, told the Secretary of State for Energy, Claire Perry, during the debate:
“There is huge concern [about permitted development], and I invite the Minister to look again at the proposals, because I do not believe there is a parliamentary majority for them.”
Council after council are submitting their responses to these consultations, and it doesn’t make pretty reading for Theresa May and her fracking lobbyists. There is simply no backing for removing decisions on fracking from communities and their elected representatives and it could be a considerable vote slump for the Tories, especially with the 2019 local elections on the way.
The three jailed protestors appear to have been made an ‘example’ of – especially with all having excellent characters and no previous convictions – possibly in the hope of deterring further escalating protests against the fracking industry.
One noteworthy case that was tried and convicted under the Public Nuisance charge, was the 2012 trial of Trenton Oldfield; the campaigner who disrupted the Oxford and Cambridge boat race with direct action. His intention – and success – was to disrupt the race by swimming in front of the boats to highlight social inequality and devastating government cuts. No one was injured during his protest.
Oldfield was initially charged with section 5 of the Public Order Act, which carries a maximum fine of £1,000, but following “… media and political pressure, the charge was changed” to that of Public Nuisance.
Following his trial, Oldfield was inexplicably jailed for six months and was made to pay costs. He was then threatened with deportation, under the then Home Secretary Theresa May’s watch, with the Home Office stating:
“Those who come to the UK must abide by our laws. We refused this individual leave to remain because we do not believe his presence in this country is conducive to the public good.”
A further court appeal in 2013 saw Oldfield win his case and the deportation order was overturned.
With a government hell-bent on pushing shale gas exploration in the UK, against public opinion, we can surmise that the Frack Free Four’s sentencing has a political leaning. The desperate need of the oil and gas industry, backed by government friends, in applying injunction orders against protestors across their sites and supply chain, demonstrates the acknowledgement that they are pushing an industry that has no place or acceptance in communities.
By applying disproportionate custodial sentences under the Public Nuisance charge, it is stifling the right to protest as a legitimate form of opposition, and thus politicising the judiciary beyond anything that is acceptable.
We must strongly resist this dangerous attempt to criminalise legitimate protest: this is a blazing grassroots call-to-action for all who care about their human rights. Rise up.
- Campaigners have set up a petition directed to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights calling for an inquiry into the declining space for civil society to effectively oppose the fracking industry in the UK. Please click here to sign it.
- You can support the Frack Free Four with donations and more, by visiting their website here.