Socialist Worker

Anti-frackers freed from prison, and call for mass demonstration

by Sarah Bates
Issue No. 2627

A previous protest at Preston New Road

A previous protest at Preston New Road (Pic: Neil Terry)


Anti-fracking campaigners are celebrating after three jailed protesters were released on appeal. They have urged everyone to be part of the fight against fracking and join a mass demonstration this Saturday. 

Jubilant scenes greeted Simon Blevins, Richard Roberts and Rich Loizou as they walked free from prison on Wednesday afternoon.

Following a three-week trial, they were jailed on 26 September for a “lorry surfing” protest at Preston New Road (PNR) in July 2017.

Convicted for causing a public nuisance, Blevins and Roberts received a 16 month sentence, and Loizou received 15 months. 

But a panel at the Royal Courts of Justice ruled their sentences were “manifestly excessive”.

Lord Chief Justice Ian Burnett said the panel deemed that a “community order with a significant requirement of unpaid work” would have been the correct judgement at the original trial.

And as the anti-fracking three had already been imprisoned for two weeks, they were given a conditional discharge. Unbowed, they have thrown themselves straight back into the fight.

Resistance

Speaking immediately after their release Loizou called for a mass demonstration at PNR this Saturday. And he linked the anti-fracking resistance to a wider battle against climate catastrophe. 

“The fracking industry threatens to industrialise our beautiful countryside”, he said.

“It will force famine, flooding and many other disasters on the world’s most vulnerable communities by exacerbating climate change.”

They are thought to be the first anti-fracking demonstrators to be handed a custodial sentence. 

And concerns were raised at the appeal about whether the original judge was suitable to decide sentences for the three anti-frackers.

Judge Robert Altham has family links to the oil and gas industry, and his sister runs a company that’s publicly supported fracking. The court of appeal said the issue needed further investigation and a response from Altham. 

Now is the time to act, and to broaden the movement for the future of the planet.

Kirsty Brimelow QC, who represented the defendants, said “We are now looking at an appeal against conviction in the light of information received which might give the appearance of bias.”

The release of the three is great news in a week that has seen fracking begin in Britain for the first time in six years. Cuadrilla finally began at the PNR site on Monday despite local residents being vehemently opposed to it. 

Activists should defend their right to protest against fracking bosses who push on with industries they know contribute to climate catastrophe. The call for a mass demonstration is a good step forward, and helps defend that right.

It’s a battle that everyone will need to be a part of. So it’s welcome that Jeremy Corbyn has promised that a Labour government would ban fracking. 

But he needs to turn words into action and mobilise the full weight of the Labour Party onto the streets and behind the fight against the frackers.

And the trade unions—most of which formally opposed fracking—should support mass campaigns to finish this danger off. 

Climate scientists released stark warnings about the reality of climate change last week. Now is the time to act, and to broaden the movement for the future of the planet. 

Join the demonstration, 11am, 20 October, Maple Farm Community Hub, Preston New Road, Blackpool, FY4 5RN. Details at https://www.facebook.com/events/290251588248035/

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