Anti-fracking protesters hold vigil outside Court of Appeal ahead of hearing

Protesters turned out in force outside the Royal Courts of Justice ahead of an appeal against the jail terms handed to three anti-fracking campaigners for causing a public nuisance.

More than 100 supporters gathered outside the building in London before challenges by soil scientist Simon Blevins, 26, from Sheffield, and teacher Richard Roberts, 36, of London, and piano restorer Rich Loizou, 31, from Devon.

Blevins and Roberts were each sentenced to 16 months, while Loizou was given 15 months.

Demonstrators climbed on to lorries outside energy firm Cuadrilla’s fracking site in Preston New Road, Little Plumpton, Lancashire, in a protest last July which lasted almost 100 hours.

Fracking protest court case
Simon Blevins (Lancashire Constabulary/PA)

Speaking before the Court of Appeal hearing on Wednesday, Platon Loizou, Rich Loizou’s father, said he and his wife had not attended their son’s trial.

He said: “What he actually said to me was, ‘dad, if I go down I don’t want to see your face, so please don’t come up’.

“It was the hardest thing in the world.

“When we got the call, ’15 months’, we were shocked.”

Fracking protest court case
Richard Roberts (Lancashire Constabulary/PA)

Loizou’s mother Sharron Loizou said she thought the courts “wanted to make an example of them to stop other demonstrators. I think it’s that simple”.

Mr Loizou said his son had committed “no violence, no criminal damage, no intimidation”.

He added: “This is the thin end of the wedge.”

Mrs Loizou said: “I think it’s backfired massively. I think it’s made ordinary people think this is the wrong, we shouldn’t be allowing it.”

Fracking protest court case
Rich Loizou (Lancashire Constabulary/PA)

Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley said outside court: “In Lancashire, the community has said no very, very clearly. Yet the government is imposing fracking, so the last line of defence for people who know what is right is direct action and protest.”

He added: “The spotlight has been shone on what the Government is doing and people are saying no.”

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said: “We are here to uphold the right to peaceful protest. We are here to celebrate those people who are brave enough to put their bodies where their beliefs are.

“Friends, that is a powerful thing to do and that is why our Government wants to criminalise it.

“That is why three brave people are on trial today, but we are here to say that the protest goes on.”

She added: “We know that when people look back at this time, it will be those protesters inside and all of us outside who will be shown to be on the right side of history.”

Dame Vivienne Westwood
Dame Vivienne Westwood protests outside the energy firm Cuadrilla’s facking site in Lancashire (PA)

Environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth and human rights organisation Liberty will make submissions to the court on the sentences handed to the three protesters.

The organisations will argue the sentences are “disproportionate” and interfere with the activists’ human rights.

Katie de Kauwe, a lawyer at Friends of the Earth, said: “We need people in the world who will stand up for what is right.

“An individual’s moral convictions on climate change or environmental protection shouldn’t be used as a factor to justify harsh sentencing.

“We believe that the fracking protesters’ passion for the environment was unlawfully used against them, resulting in incorrect and draconian sentences.”

Rosa Curling, solicitor at Leigh Day, one of the law firms representing Friends of the Earth, said: “Our clients strongly believe that the sentences handed down in this case were excessive and inappropriate and set a chilling precedent for other peaceful protesters who engage in protest based on their sincerely held beliefs.”

Emma Norton, head of legal casework at Liberty, said: “The right to protest is fundamental to democracy, and civil disobedience plays a critical role in voicing the conscience of a community when the law falls short of justice.

“When people break the law, they rightly expect to face fair consequences, but the disproportionate punishment of peaceful protesters betrays our values as an open society where we can stand up to power, and risks deterring people from exercising their right to dissent.”

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