The British establishment is stepping up its deranged assault on anti-fracking protesters. How else can we interpret the 15-16 month jail sentences handed out yesterday at Preston Crown Court to three peaceful protesters?
Simon Roscoe Blevins (26), Richard Roberts (36) and Richard Loizou (31) were convicted in August of causing a public nuisance. They took part in a four-day direct action that blocked a convoy of tricks carrying drilling equipment from entering the Preston New Road fracking site near Blackpool, operated by Cuadrilla.
The judge, Robert Altham, made clear the political nature of his decision in court yesterday. He said he thought the three men posed a risk of reoffending, and could not
be “rehabilitated” – because “each of them remains motivated by an unswerving confidence that they are right.”
He added: “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 judge’s vindictive sentencing is squarely in line with a small section of the UK establishment that is determined to impose development of gas production using fracking on communities, whether they like it or not. Kirsty Brimelow QC, representing Roberts, told the court that that in the case of fracking at Preston New Road, “political process has been exhausted”.
You can say that again. The government has rammed through decisions to allow fracking at the site despite overwhelming opposition by the local community.
In 2015, the county council refused permission for Cuadrilla to frack at the site. Taking advantage of planning rules adopted by the coalition government – yes, that’s you too, the Lib Dems – Cuadrilla appealed. In 2016, Sajid Javid, then communities secretary, duly overturned Lancashire council’s decision. And in July this year, the government gave final consent for Cuadrilla to get to work.
John Ashton, the UK diplomatic envoy on climate change 2006-12, and hardly a raving revolutionary, pointed out: “The only justification for forcing an industry with no social licence on to a community that finds it repugnant arises when there is an overriding national interest. In the case of fracking, there is no such interest.
For exploratory drilling, Ashton added, the government “now proposes to exempt the industry from the need to apply for planning permission at all, by extending to shale gas rules originally designed to make it easier for homeowners to build sheds and conservatories”. And then when fracked wells are ready to produce gas, the government intends to designate them “nationally significant infrastructure”, giving unelected planning inspectors instead of local authorities the power of approval.
Up against this sort of “democracy”, what are campaigners supposed to do? Climbing on lorries will just be the start of it. GL, 27 September 2018.
What friends, families and supporters said, as reported by the DrillOrDrop site:
Rosalind Blevins, mother of Simon Blevins, said:
My son and the others were working under a social conscience for the good of the planet. I am proud of them for standing up against climate change. There is no doubt about climate change. 98% of scientists agree that climate chaos is happening. We have all got to stand up and reduce our use of fossil fuels now. I do not believe that a custodial sentence is in the benefit of society.
Simon Blevins’s supporters released a statement of his reaction:
This won’t break us, we will come out stronger. Some may view us as victims, but we refuse to be victimised by this. The real victims will be future generations suffering preventable disasters caused by climate change. Our friends and fellow campaigners outside will continue to fight for a ban on fracking and for a just transition to a renewable and democratically owned energy system.
Michelle Easton, partner of Richard Roberts, said:
We are absolutely devastated but this is nothing we are not used to. As a protest community we have been let down again and again by democracy. It is a huge shock and this is a huge sadness. But it is not something we are surprised about. If our loved ones are going to be locked up we will make sure it worthwhile.
Taryn, the partner of Richard Loizou, read a statement on his behalf:
My views on fracking have not been changed. I was there to support and care for people. I regret that I caused upset to residents living near the Preston New Road site. My work with children and young people gave me no choice but to disturb Cuadrilla’s actions.
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