Three anti-fracking activists have been freed after Court of Appeal ruled that their prison sentences were ‘manifestly excessive’. Simon Blevins, Richard Roberts and Rich Loizou were jailed at Preston Crown Court last month after being found guilty of public nuisance over a protest last July at Cuadrilla’s fracking site in Lancashire.
The so called ‘Fracking Three’ were convicted of causing a public nuisance after taking part in a four-day protest blocking a convey of lorries from entering the Preston New Road fracking site in July last year. Blevins and Roberts were sentenced to 16 months in prison and Loizou 15 months.
The so called Fracking Three are reckoned to be the first environmental activists to be imprisoned for public nuisance since 1932. The human rights group Liberty intervened arguing that ‘the disproportionate length of the sentences’ breached the activists’ fundamental human rights and would have ‘a chilling effect’ on peaceful protest.
The Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett yesterday called immediate custodial sentence ‘manifestly excessive’. ‘In our judgment, the appropriate sentence which should have been imposed… was a community order with a significant requirement of unpaid work,’ he said. However, he went on to say that the appellants had already been in prison for six weeks. ‘As a result, and only for that reason, we have concluded that the appropriate sentence now is a conditional discharge for two years,’ Lord Burnett continued.
In her submissions to the court, Kirsty Brimelow QC, for the protesters, had argued that the sentences had had a ‘chilling effect’ on protest and that the three men were involved in ‘peaceful protest’ and ‘acted and lived in a way that is entirely selfless’. According to the Press Association, Brimelow said they are looking whether to challenge their convictions on the basis of the ‘apparent bias’ of the trial judge.
Brimelow had told the court that Judge Altham’s sister had written a letter in support of fracking in 2015. The Daily Mirror claimed that the Altham family business ‘supplies the Irish Sea oil and gas industry’.
In a statement on behalf of the three outside prison, Loizou said that the Court of Appeal had ‘affirmed that when people peacefully break the law out of a moral obligation to prevent the expansion of fossil fuel industries they should not be sent to prison’.
‘The fracking industry threatens to industrialise our beautiful countryside. It will force famine, flooding and many other disasters on the world’s most vulnerable communities by exacerbating climate change. Fracking is beginning right now so there has never been a more critical time to take action. The planet needs you.’