There was a lively crowd outside the High Court on October 17, showing solidarity with the 3 anti-fracking protestors, Simon Blevins, 26, Richard Roberts, 36, and Rich Loizou, 31, who were appealing their sentences of up to 16 months after being convicted of causing a public nuisance at the Cuadrilla site at Preston New Road, writes Terry Conway
Supporters were jubilant later in the day to hear that the men were to be freed, after the Lord Chief Justice ruled that an “immediate custodial sentence in the case of these appellants was manifestly excessive”. Given that they had already been in custody for two weeks, he granted them a conditional discharge.
The men, who appeared by video link from Preston jail, were later released to be greeted by cheering protestors. Rich Louzou read a statement to the media:
“If people break the law out of a moral obligation to prevent the expansion of fossil fuel industries they should not be sent to prison,” he said, to applause from the crowd, before urging people to join the demonstration at the Preston New Road site on Saturday.
One of the reasons the case attracted attention was the fact that allegations were made about the links between the original trial judge and the fossil fuel industry.
Judge Robert Altham’s father and sister run JC Altham and Sons, believed to be part of the supply chain for energy giant Centrica, which has invested tens of millions of pounds in fracking.
The judicial conduct investigations office later confirmed it had “received a complaint regarding HHJ Robert Altham which will be considered in accordance with the judicial conduct (judicial and other office holders) rules 2014”.
The men’s solicitor stated that the group were considering appealing against their convictions given these facts.
Red Green Labour supporters were at the protest outside the High Court which heard from a number of speakers including the partner of one of the prisoners and the father of another, and the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas and Johnathan Bartley. Labour’s Shadow Chancellor was unable to make it because of the closure of Paddington station meaning major problems with trains from West London, but sent a message of solidarity which was cheered by the crowd.
On a slightly sour note there was an attempt to persuade those who had brought the Brent Central Labour Party banner to the event to keep it away from the press photographers. Whether this was because the many Green Party supporters hadn’t brought banners with them wasn’t clear but it seemed not only petty but counterproductive. The lead banner at the protest stated “We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe”. Indeed that’s correct – and to do so we need to build a massive movement which has the weight of the labour movement at its centre.
So Saturday’s demonstration at PNR will in some ways become a victory celebration, but is also even more necessary than before because we lost the injunction against Cuadrilla last week, so fracking has now actually started on the site. Heroic protestors managed a 12 hour blockade on Monday which took much of the wind out of the sails of Cuadrilla’s triumphalism but the determined local activists who have been on the site day after day need another boost in terms of a massive turn out on Saturday.
Saturday 20 October 11-4
Maple Farm Community Hub, Preston New Road,
Blackpool, FY4 5RN
Coach from Malton and York
Malton (Wentworth Arms) 7.30am, York (Designer Outlet bus stop) 8am. £5 a head. Please reserve your place by pm Carol Jefferson-Towner if you haven’t booked already. LIMITED AVAILABILITY – act now!
Coach from Dorking and London
If you are using public transport
– get train to Blackpool, Preston or Kirkham and Wesham stations and then 61 bus to World of Water Aquatic Centre.
To follow what the campaign is doing see: http://frackfreefoursupporters.org/