Opponents of fracking sat in silence at Preston Crown Court this morning as his honour Judge Robert Altham sent three men to jail for taking part in a lorry protest lasting nearly 100 hours outside Cuadrilla’s shale gas site.
Simon Blevins and Richard Roberts were sentenced for 16 months and Rich Loizou to 15 months for climbing onto lorries delivering to the site near Blackpool. They had denied causing a public nuisance but were found guilty at a jury trial last month. They will serve half the sentence in prison and the rest on licence. It is understood they are considering appeal against the severity of the sentence.
Julian Brock, the fourth man who took part in the protest, was given a 12-month sentence, suspended for 18 months. He had pleaded guilty to public nuisance.
The sentencing hearing, which began yesterday, heard that they climbed on to the cabs of four lorries in a convoy bound for the Preston New Road site. They stayed on the lorries for at total of 99.5 hours. DrillOrDrop report on the sentencing hearing
Outside the court, campaigners, several in tears, said they were devastated by the prison sentences.
Rosalind Blevins, mother of Simon Blevins, said:
“My son and the others were working under a social conscience for the good of the planet. I am proud of them for standing up against climate change.
“There is no doubt about climate change. 98% of scientists agree that climate chaos is happening.
“We have all got to stand up and reduce our use of fossil fuels now.
“I do not believe that a custodial sentence is in the benefit of society.”
Simon Blevins’ supporters released a statement of his reaction to the sentence:
“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”.
Michelle Easton, partner of Richard Roberts, said:
“We are absolutely devastated but this is nothing we are not used to.
“As a protest community we have been let down again and again by democracy.
“It is a huge shock and this is a huge sadness. But it is not something we are surprised about. If our loved ones are going to be locked up we will make sure it worthwhile.”
Taryn, the partner of Richard Loizou, read a statement on his behalf:
“My views on fracking have not been changed.
“I was there to support and care for people. I regret that I caused upset to residents living near the Preston New Road site.
“My work with children and young people gave me no choice but to disturb Cuadrilla’s actions.”
Miranda Cox, a campaigner against Cuadrilla’s operations in Lancashire and a member of Kirkham Town council said after the sentencing:
“This is an unprecedented case: that they were found guilty of public nuisance and that the sentences they have received are draconian and disproportionate.
“This is a very dark day for British justice and for democracy.
“They came to Preston New Road to support us against an industry that could devastate our countryside.”
Asked how anti-fracking campaigners would respond to the sentences, she said:
“I think it will galvanise us. We have been through every process available to us. It will make us more resolute.”
Barbara Richardson, who lives near the Preston New Road site, praised the men’s protest:
“As a community facing fracking on our doorstep, it is a very sad day when peaceful protesters can be sent to prison for trying to protect people and our planet from serious harm by this damaging fossil fuel industry. In our opinion these men are heroes who stood up for what they believe in and now face the serious consequences with bravery and dignity.”
There have been almost daily protests in Preston New Road since Cuadrilla began work in January 2017.
Since then, there have been about 350 arrests for protest activity. But until now, people who were found guilty had received conditional discharges, fines or community service.
The lorry protest, from 25-28 July 2017, led to travel disruption around the Preston New Road site. The court heard how at times there were tail-backs of traffic and disturbance to bus services.
Francis Egan, chief executive of Cuadrilla, said in a statement:
“We have always respected the right to peaceful and lawful protest. However we will continue to condemn unlawful, irresponsible and reckless behaviour that at best inconveniences and costs law abiding local business and commuters and at worst puts them at risk of harm. It is, in our view, a shame that it has come to this but the Crown Court has today taken the correct decision in imposing custodial sentences.”
A spokesperson for the pro-fracking group, Lancashire for Shale, said:
“The hold-ups on the busy A583 caused by anti-fracking activists last summer will no doubt have had a negative impact on the local tourism sector and the businesses situated along and near Preston New Road – especially those whose customers would have been put off from visiting them, leading to a drop in takings.
“It’s one thing to have strong views about fracking and to want to express them, but it’s another thing altogether when that crosses the line into unlawful behaviour that affects ordinary people. The offences committed by these activists are far from victimless crimes and it’s good to see this recognised by the courts.”
But a campaigner, who attended the trial, said:
“The government has been saying we need to tackle climate change but when three people try to do that they are sent to prison because there ws a traffic jam.”
People travelled from across Britain to attend the hearing and hundreds of others sent messages of support.
Tina Lynam, a parent of a child taught by Rich Loizou, travelled from Devon. She 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.”
Greenpeace UK executive director, John Sauven, said the protestors “deserve our gratitude, not a prison term”.
Dave Timms, head of political affairs at Friends of the Earth, said:
“This historic sentencing is disproportionate and harsh. Our thoughts are with these protesters who acted out of conscience to protect the planet.”
Wenonah Hauter, executive director and founder of Food & Water Watch and Food & Water Europe, said in a statement:
“This decision undermines basic democratic rights to protest and defend communities in the UK.
“Fracking companies are facing sustained protests for a reason. The public knows the dangers fracking poses to our clean air and water, and that’s why activists in England are taking bold action to protect their communities against these threats.
“Companies like Ineos and Cuadrilla would like to stifle this movement, and unfortunately this Court decision produces a dangerous precedent to threaten those advocating for a healthy climate and a livable world. However, if these companies think a court decision will stop the movement to protect our water, climate and communities from fracking, they are in for a surprise.”
The Green Party MEP, Keith Taylor, who has campaigned against the onshore oil and gas industry in south east England, said:
“The frack free four are heroes. These people put their lives on hold to defend our environment and climate from the destruction imposed on it by a government blindly committed to fracking at any costs. The latest cost being the liberty of three peaceful protesters whose only crime is resorting to peaceful direct action to resist an industry after every democratic route of opposition was ignored and overturned by the government. The people of Lancashire and their democratically elected representatives repeatedly said no to fracking.
“It has been almost a hundred years since Britain jailed its last environmental campaigners. Since then, the theory goes, we have developed into a mature liberal democracy that can accommodate dissent. Today’s decision blows that myth wide-open; authoritarianism has become a favourite tool of a minority government that lacks the public’s support to force through its environmentally destructive agenda by any other means. Any government that conspires with the dirty fossil fuel industry against its own people is rotten to the core.
“Dissent is not a crime in any country with a political system fit to be called a democracy. Consequently, the sentences handed to the frack-free four are chilling.”
Campaigners have set up a petition to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights calling for a thematic inquiry into the declining space for civil society to effectively oppose the fracking industry in the UK. Link to petition
Reports from hearing on 25 September 2018
Reporting from this hearing has been made possible by the donations of individual DrillOrDrop readers