Troublesome Words would like to extend its heartfelt congratulations to Simon, Richard, and Rich, at the news that their jail sentences were successfully overturned today by hardworking Kirsty Brimelow QC.

It’s not often that you get good activist news, especially for those of us interested in environmentalism – but this one is a take-home, put-the-kettle-on, and play-some-loud-music with 😀

As you may have heard… Hydraulic Fracking is the latest extractive industry on the block, arguably designed as a means for generally small [ed. what they call ‘agile’ companies in the lingo…] industry firms to benefit from massive corporate backing, as well as state regulatory support to override local communities and democracies.

One of the principle ‘first’ sites for fracking company Cuadrilla in the UK has been the Preston New Road site in Lancashire (where the acts of civil disobedience took place) and has understandably become a focal point for the struggle against this industry. The license to explore and extract for natural gas was denied to Cuadrilla by the Lancashire County Council – but their ruling was ignored by the Home Secretary*

Manifestly Excessive

What you might be surprised to hear is what these three young gentlemen did – sit on the cab of a truck transporting fracking materials to Preston New Road site. That’s all.

There was no damage done to either vehicle or private property, no intimidating behavior, violence or threats of violence were ever displayed. They may have sung some songs.

For this tardiness the presiding Judge Altham at their original court case gave each of the men nearly a year and a half in prison (16, 16, and 15 months) in the first ever custodial sentence given to nonviolent, non-damaging environmental protests since the mass trespass of Kinder Scout, 1932!

It has since been argued that Judge Altham’s family connections to the shale gas industry may have influenced his decision. As it was, the Lord Chief Justice Ian Burnett quashed those custodial sentences at Appeal Court today and instead gave conditional discharges to all three men, and is quoted by news site DrillorDrop as saying;

Immediate custodial sentences in this case were manifestly excessive.

Towards the Future

The above is a much-needed victory in times when punitive and harsher criminal punishments for environmental (and peace) campaigners has been escalating sharply. Just earlier this year, a group of campaigners who – whilst dressed as giant yellow canaries – blocked an entrance to a Merthyr Tydfil opencast coal mine for a day, where given £10,000 bail fees. To compare this change of heart: the Kingsnorth 6, who stopped an entire coal-powered fire station were rightly given a Not Guilty verdict, as they successfully argued that it was an act of conscience to stop polluting technologies from harming the future. We might also be reminded of a time when, a few more years back still, a woman was also found Not Guilty of damaging a Lear Jet intended to be used in the Second Iraq War – again because it was an act of conscience to stop future harm being caused.

What do these mixture of sentences say? I would hazard that there is a clear tug-of-war going on in the legal mind about what can be considered fair, proportionate, or even harmful. Judge Altham represents a faction of the legal fraternity that appear to equate corporate inconvenience with harsh financial or custodial sentencing. Worrying indeed.

What makes this Appeal today vital, is that it highlights this divide in the legal system – and forewarns future nonviolent actors of conscience.

Till we win! 😉

 

* A new piece of legislature was introduced under Conservative PM David Cameron’s government called the ‘Infrastructure Act’ which identified private company interests (hydraulic fracking by private firms) to be as significant to national security as hospitals and public services etc – thus allowing the government to greenlight any fracking sites they wished. In the years following, fracking licenses up and down the country were routinely denied by local County Councils, but then allowed by the Home Secretary.

 

 

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