Three jailed over Cuadrilla fracking protest

Fracking protesters gather outside Lancashire County Council.
Fracking protesters gather outside Lancashire County Council.

Three protesters have been jailed for a causing a public nuisance after they climbed on to lorries outside a fracking site.

The disruption at energy firm Cuadrilla’s base in Preston New Road in Little Plumpton, Lancashire, in July 2017 lasted just short of 100 hours as the campaigners refused to come down.

On Wednesday, Simon Blevins, 26, from Sheffield, and Richard Roberts, 36, of London, were both jailed for 16 months, while Rich Loizou, 31, from Devon, was jailed for 15 months.

A fourth defendant, Julian Brock, 47, from Torquay was sentenced to 12 months in custody, suspended for 18 months.

Sentencing at Preston Crown Court, Judge Robert Latham said that local residents and businesses had also suffered because of the disruption to the busy main road.

He said: “In this case the defendants caused costs and disruption to Cuadrilla but their other victims were the many members of public who were nothing to do with Cuadrilla… and were
viewed by these defendants as necessary and justified collateral damage.”

He said he expressed no view on fracking which was “not the business of the court”.

He also pointed out though it was “not a frivolous topic” and that environmental matters are to be taken seriously.

The sentences would have been “considerably longer” if they have not been committed against a background of protest, he continued.

However he felt he could not suspend the jail terms despite accepting the impact of incarceration and the good they did in the community.

He explained: “I do find they provide a risk of re-offending.

“Each of them remains motivated by unswerving confidence that they are right. Even at their trial they felt justified by their actions.

“Given the disruption caused in this case, only immediate custody can achieve sufficient punishment.”

The defendants hugged each other and blew kisses to the public gallery before they were led from the dock.

Some supporters in the public gallery began singing what they later described as a “native tribal song of power” as the trio began their sentences.

Blevins, Loizou and Roberts were convicted of public nuisance by a jury at an earlier trial.

Brock pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to the same offence.

The court heard that Blevins, of Andover Street, Sheffield; Roberts, of Upper Richmond Road, London; Loizou, of Platt Lane, Manchester; and Brock, of Ellacombe Church Road, Torquay, all arrived independently of each other at Preston New Road.

Roberts, a piano restorer, got through a police cordon set up on the morning of July 25 last year as Cuadrilla was expecting a convoy of seven lorries to deliver specialist drilling equipment.

He clambered aboard one of the lorries and was seen to blow kisses to a police officer as they gathered evidence by filming him.

The other defendants followed him as police ruled out taking them off by force and decided to negotiate to persuade them to end their protest.

All had a “grandstand view” of the chaos that unfolded, said Judge Altham.

Loizou came down after 45 hours because he said he was tired, wet and needed the toilet, while Blevins jumped off after 73 hours and gave a speech as he was feted by fellow protesters.

The judge noted that Blevins, a soil scientist, told jurors “without a trace of irony” that he came down because he needed to be at work the following Monday.

He said a significant feature in his case was that while under investigation for the Preston New Road incident he went on to climb on top of another lorry at a similar protest in Yorkshire and later pleaded guilty to vehicle tampering.

Roberts came down after 84 hours and told the court it was a Friday and he did not want to spend another week on top of a lorry.

Judge Altham said traffic on the busy A553 road was significantly disrupted as police had to set up a contraflow system during the protest which also had a knock-on effect to surrounding routes.

Local businesses and residents were affected, said the judge who cited in particular the case of an elderly and disabled female resident at a nearby housing park who relied on a bus to go shopping.

He said the woman was forced to alight short of her destination on her return journey and had to walk 90 minutes on crutches before she arrived home and was sick.

The lorry drivers also had to sit out the protest as they felt obliged to stay in their vehicles as one or more of them became “sitting ducks” for intimidation from other campaigners, the judge said.

The four-day protest itself was said to have cost Cuadrilla an estimated £50,000.

Judge Altham told the defendants: “The decision to stay so long vastly increases culpability and, therefore, harm as you put your own interests above the wider public.”

He accepted Brock had shown genuine remorse and noted he chose not to vacate his guilty plea when the other three defendants attempted to stay the indictment on grounds of abuse of process.

Brock had already served a four-week sentence for a bail offence when failing to attend a plea hearing and was then further remanded in custody ahead of sentencing.

Cuadrilla, which has received Government consent to extract shale gas at two wells at Preston New Road, has said fracking is likely to start in the next few weeks.

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