Fracking Campaigners Freed As 'Manifestly Excessive' Jail Sentence Overturned

Read time: 5 mins

Three judges have quashed the prison sentence of the three anti-fracking protestors, ruling the sentence to be “manifestly excessive”. The court room erupted into applause, when the decision was announced.

Simon Blevins, Richard Roberts and Richard Loizou will walk out free of Preston prison in Lancashire this evening and go home to their families.

The appeal case was heard at the Royal Courts of Justice on Wednesday morning in a packed court room with Blevins, Roberts and Loizou appearing through a video link from Preston prison.

Following a two hour hearing, Lord Chief Justice Sir Ian Burnett told the court: “We are concluding that an immediate custodial sentence was manifestly excessive”, adding an appropriate sentence should have been a community order with a significant requirement for unpaid work.

The appellants have been in custody for three weeks and as a result, and only for that reason, we are concluding that the only sentence could be a conditional discharge for two years”.

The three men were seen smiling in disbelief through the video link.

Outside the courtroom there was an explosion of joy from the three men’s families and girlfriends, who attended the appeal.  

Platon Loizou, Richard Loizou’s father, told DeSmog UK: “I am over the moon and the fight will continue against fracking. The first phase was to get my son out of prison. Now the fight continues”.

Speaking outside the court, Michelle Easton, Roberts’ girlfriend, said: “We are going to go straight to Euston station and pick our boys up from Preston prison.”

She added that while the three men were still convicted of causing public nuisance, the latest sentence was aligned with “the rights that we have in this country”.

You do not lock up protesters who are peaceful, who have strong convictions and who stand for what is right. That should not be allowed to happen in this country.”


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Last month, Blevins, a soil scientist, Roberts, a piano restorer, and Loizou, a teacher, were sentenced to 16 and 15 months in prison at Preston Crown Court after being convicted by a jury of causing a public nuisance offence.  

This was the first time campaigners had been jailed in the UK for anti-fracking protests.

In July, the three men spent between two and four days on top of lorries that were making their way to the Preston New Road fracking site in Lancashire, where Cuadrilla Resources has started to frack for shale gas on Monday.

The three men’s case had come to embody the struggle against fracking in the UK, which protestors have long denounced as “undemocratic” given the strength of local opposition to the projects.

They say fracking companies are also ignoring the warnings of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which said in a landmark report last week that the world has 12 years to take rapid and unprecedented action to cuts greenhouse gas emissions if it wants to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

The Case

The appeal was heard a week after The Daily Mirror reported that Judge Robert Altham, who sentenced the three campaigners to prison, had family ties to the energy company Centrica, which bought a 25 per cent stake in Cuadrilla and its partner AJ Lucas’ exploration licence.

The 2013 deal also included Centrica pumping £60 million into the Lancashire fracking venture.  

Kirsty Brimelow QC, the human rights lawyer who was representing the three men pro-bono, also told the court that Judge Altham’s sister had signed a petition in Lancashire in favour of fracking.

The alleged connection to Judge Altham to the fracking industry was not part of the appeal hearing and the allegations would be considered separately.   

Brimelow made the case that the prison sentences breached the European Convention on Human Rights, including the right to freedom of thought and conscience, the right to freedom of expression and the right to freedom of assembly.

She said that “there is not a single case” upheld by the European Court of Human Rights in which immediate custodial sentence for up to 16 months was given to peaceful protestors and that the custody sentence in this case was not passed and was “entirely disproportionate”.


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She added the sentences had “caused outrage” from environmental campaigners and that it had had “a chilling effect upon protesters”. 

Brimelow also made the case of the good characters of the three men, which she described as “living a life that is very selfless”.

These are highly educated people who put their education and their beliefs to the benefits of others”, she added.

The court also heard that dozens of letters of support and references were sent to the court testifying of the good character of the three men.

At the time of publication, Cuadrilla Resources had not commented on the case.

Reactions

Reactions to the news of the three anti-fracking protestors’ prison sentences being overturned quickly poured in on social media.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Twitter that he welcomed the decision “to quash the unjust sentences of fracking protestors”.

We stand in solidarity with the activists and thank them for standing up to the further destruction of our environment by this Tory Government,” he added.

Green MP Caroline Lucas tweeted: “Wonderful news - Richard, Richard and Roscoe are free! This is a huge victory for the climate justice movement and for our basic right to protest.”

In a short statement, Friends of the Earth said: “We are very pleased that the Court of Appeal has today found that the custodial sentences were manifestly excessive and quashed them. This is a great outcome.”

Image credit: Soapbox.en

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