September 26 2023

‘I was arrested halfway up a gantry on the M25’

‘I was arrested halfway up a gantry on the M25’

We are facing Britain’s new draconian anti-protest laws via the Public Order Bill and Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 which restricts the right to protest and increases penalties. I was one of many protesters recently sent to prison without trial and denied bail. 

I work in environmental science communication and have tried all the traditional methods of campaigning. I have become increasingly alarmed by the gap between the warnings of climate scientists and the lack of meaningful Government action. This led me to participate in peaceful climate protests (some leading to being arrested, though at the time of writing I have no convictions). Some of these protests blocked public highways (a reliable format to gain media attention when non-disruptive protests are typically ignored), others targeted oil companies and government departments promoting fossil fuel infrastructure. 

Civil disobedience tactics were used by the suffragettes, labour movements, civil rights and anti-apartheid campaigners to win many of the rights we take for granted today. Climate protesters are trying to secure for us all the right to a habitable planet and a livable future. 

The Government now labels nonviolent civil disobedience as ‘seriously disruptive’ protest. Meanwhile they ignore the serious disruption their policy decisions are causing the public with the cost of living crisis, failure to negotiate with striking workers and the life threatening emergency wait times in the NHS. The disruption and inconvenience caused by climate protests is nothing compared to the destruction, suffering and death caused by the climate crisis (and it’s a myth peddled by the hostile press that protestors block blue light emergency vehicles). The Government is attempting to silence citizens who protest against their deadly policy decisions by introducing draconian laws. 

When I protested in November last year (under the new anti-protest laws) I knew that being imprisoned was possible, but felt morally compelled to act. I was arrested halfway up a gantry on the M25, with climbing gear and a Just Stop Oil banner. I was protesting against the government’s licensing of over 100 new oil and gas fields. This is at a time when all the climate scientists, the UN, the IPCC, the International Energy Agency say that there can be no new fossil fuel developments if we want to prevent billions of people dying from starvation and extreme heat over the course of this century.

Nearly 40 Just Stop Oil protesters were remanded for the M25 protests in November. Everyone applied for bail within the first week and only a third were granted it. The number of climate protesters who were remanded and then denied bail for the M25 protest is unprecedented. My first two bail applications were refused by Chelmsford courts because of another ongoing protest related court case. 

A few weeks ago I was granted bail by a fairer judge when my case was moved to a different court. I was released with an electronic home curfew tag and multiple restrictive bail conditions including not to enter Greater London. Others have bail conditions banning them from attending or organising protests, talking about protest publicly and even associating or communicating with other protesters. 

Those still in prison are mainly detained on suspicion of ‘conspiracy to intentionally or recklessly cause public nuisance’, a new offence under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. 

Daniel Shaw, aged 38 from Northampton is one of those. He was recently denied bail for a third time by a judge at Southwark Crown Court. This same judge sentenced a businessman and Paralympian, to a year’s imprisonment for climbing onto a plane at London City airport to highlight the climate emergency. He has also directed juries to not acquit climate protesters. 

Daniel’s bail was refused on the grounds that he broke unconditional court bail related to a previous protest case that has yet to be taken to trial. He is being held on remand for an unknown amount of time on presumption of guilt by a judge who has demonstrated a bias against climate protesters. 

Daniel was arrested during a police raid on his parent’s house on 6 November. He was taken to London and held in a police cell for two nights before being remanded to prison. 

Why? Because a few days prior he was on a Zoom call that a Sun journalist joined, recorded and sent to the police. The Zoom call attendees are being charged with ‘conspiracy to cause a public nuisance’ for talking about the climate crisis and upcoming protests. 

The Sun newspaper (owned by Rupert Murdoch who sits on the Board of Genie Oil & Gas and uses his media empire to spread climate misinformation and slander activists) also made a deal with the police that they could photograph another suspected conspirator as his house was raided. 

Daniel worked in adult social care for over 10 years and is of good character with no criminal convictions. Yet he’s been imprisoned for nearly three months without a plea hearing or trial date and repeatedly denied bail just for talking about protest on a Zoom call. 

Since 2019 when I became involved in protest, I have witnessed police becoming more heavy handed, quick to shut down protests and the courts becoming more punitive. Now the Government has granted police and courts powers to imprison people for months without trial for being on a Zoom call. Counter-terror police could be labelling climate activists whose actions ‘threaten businesses’ as potential terrorists. These are chilling anti-protest restrictions and civil rights abuses usually seen in an authoritarian regime but are quietly happening right here in (theoretically) liberal and democratic Great Britain. 

There’s evidence that Policy Exchange, an influential right wing lobby group funded by fossil fuel companies, pushed for these new anti-protest laws. Shortly after Policy Exchange published this report on Just Stop Oil, courts began refusing bail enmasse. 

Before these new anti-protest laws were introduced, laws existed to deal with civil disobedience. It is naive to think harsher laws will deter peaceful, dissenting protests and strikes. David Mitchell accurately commented that the fear that the planet is soon to become uninhabitable is far greater than the fear of prison for climate protesters. Even a policing leader acknowledged ‘We’re not going to arrest our way out of environmental protest’. 

Perhaps Rishi Sunak should heed his own hypocritical advice to China rather than dismantling our civil liberties: ‘Instead of listening to their people’s protests, the Chinese Government has chosen to crack down further…’