Preston Crown Court saw dramatic scenes as three anti-fracking activists were given lengthy jail sentences on Wednesday.
The historic move is a huge blow for the movement that has resisted the fracking industry’s attempts to install wells that threaten more catastrophic climate change.
The environmental activists were sentenced after a “lorry surfing” direct action at the Preston New Road (PNR) fracking site near Blackpool in Lancashire.
Simon Roscoe Blevins and Richard Roberts were sentenced to 16 months in prison and Richard Loizou was sentenced to 15 months.
They denied the charges.
A fourth defendant, Julian Brock, pled guilty at a separate hearing and was given a 12-month suspended sentence.
The four men climbed on top of lorries and stayed there for four days from 25 July last year.
They were prosecuted under public nuisance—an offence that has no sentencing guidelines and little legal precedent.
The fracking at PNR has faced huge opposition from residents and environmental activists.
More than 300 people have been arrested at the site since fracking firm Cuadrilla began constructing the well in January 2017. All of the arrests so far at PNR had led to fines or community service.
Cuadrilla is hoping to start Britain’s first fracking operation in six years.
In June its legal injunction to ban protests was extended. It specifically bans lorry-surging or “lock-ons”—where activists chain themselves together to disrupt traffic.
The three jailed activists are part of a movement committed to stopping the environmentally dangerous industry of fracking.
The judge Robert Altham said the men couldn’t be rehabilitated as “each of them remains motivated by an unswerving confidence that they are right”. “Given the disruption caused in this case, only immediate custody can achieve sufficient punishment”, he said.
But fracking companies don’t care about the destruction they will wreak on the communities where they want to install fracking wells.
Pressure from activists means that many town councils are unwilling to grant fracking companies licenses to carry out exploratory work. But the drive to fracking comes right from the top of Tory government.
Central government has new powers to override local council’s decisions to make it easier to grant planning permission to fracking companies.
Fracking is a hugely dangerous and will contribute to climate chaos. Fracking will bring the earthquakes, flooding and pollution to Preston New Road and any other site where permission is granted.
Kirsty Brimelow, a barrister representing Richard, told the court that “there has been no environmental protester sentenced to jail since 1932”.
Brimelow said it was the first time the law on public nuisance has been used to jail environmental campaigners since the 1932 Kinder Scout mass trespass. Some 82 years ago thousands of people walked across open countryside which won the “right to roam” on country land.
That sprit of mass action is needed to finish off fracking for good.