Fracking protesters freed from prison by appeal judges
Three anti-fracking protesters jailed for causing a public nuisance by climbing onto lorries at a site in Lancashire have been freed by the Court of Appeal.
Soil scientist Simon Blevins, 26, from Sheffield, and teacher Richard Roberts, 36, of London, were both jailed for 16 months, while piano restorer Rich Loizou, 31, from Devon, was given 15 months in September.
But their sentences were replaced with conditional discharges by three senior judges sitting in London on Wednesday.
The trio 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.
The three, who were the first environmental protesters to be imprisoned since 1932, were convicted of public nuisance following a trial at Preston Crown Court.
Quashing their jail terms the Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett said: "We have concluded that an immediate custodial sentence in the case of these appellants was manifestly excessive.
"In our judgment the appropriate sentence which should have been imposed on September 26 was a community order with a significant requirement of unpaid work.
"But these appellants have been in prison for six weeks.
"As a result, and only for that reason, we have concluded that the appropriate sentence now is a conditional discharge for two years."
Supporters in the packed courtroom, who had gathered outside for a demonstration before the hearing, erupted into applause as the decision was announced.
The judge said the court would give full reasons for its ruling at a later date.
The appeal was supported by human rights organisation Liberty and environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth.
A fourth activist, Julian Brock, 47, from Torquay, was sentenced to 12 months in custody, suspended for 18 months, after he admitted public nuisance.
Mr Brock did not challenge his sentence.
Last week Cuadrilla was given the go-ahead to start work at the site following a failed High Court bid by campaigners to block fracking due to safety concerns.