Judge says he won’t jail Insulate Britain protesters found GUILTY of public nuisance after blockading M25 ‘because they knew best’
- Insulate Britain activists ‘did not have mandate’ for M25 action, court heard
- The activists have been found guilty of causing a public nuisance over stunt
- Read more: TFL director’s wife and activist says it was ‘really really difficult’
Insulate Britain activists have been found guilty of public nuisance after they sat down down at a busy interchange of the M25 believing their concerns ‘trumped all others’, a court was told.
A dozen protesters walked out into a carriageway in the middle of rush hour traffic, unfurled a banner and sat down in the road at the Junction 3 Swanley interchange, causing an enormous backlog.
The judge suggested that he would not consider custodial sentences for the convicted activists but they are likely to be hit with tens of thousands in legal costs.
A jury at Hove Crown Court was told one distraught woman who was on her way to hospital to visit a dying loved one broke down in tears and pleaded to be let through the blockade.
Cathy Eastburn (right), 55, the wife of a former Transport for London (TfL) boss, Insulate Britain spokesperson, Cameron Ford (left), 32, Alexander Rodger (top), 33, and Venetia Carter (bottom), 58 have been found guilty of causing a public nuisance.
Cathy Eastburn, 55, arriving at Hove Crown Court on Thursday. She said the action was: ‘What we did was actually a public service, a public good’
Cameron Ford (pictured) said: ‘We may feel that we live quite separately but in reality we are all in a community’
Judge Stephen Mooney said he would not be considering custodial sentences for the prisoners after a jury found them guilty of causing a public nuisance
Hove Crown Court was told on Thursday that the protesters imposed their personal beliefs on untold motorists on September 13, 2022 – just a month before the COP26 conference was due to start in Glasgow.
Judge Stephen Mooney indicated he would not be handing down custodial sentences to the protesters.
But he added he intended to hit the offenders with the costs of the court case which could run into tens of thousands.
He told the offenders ‘You got part of what you wanted which was to be arrested, being brought to court and facing a trial by your peers.
‘You did so in the full knowledge you had no defence but using the Crown Court as a forum for protest comes at a cost and it will be a substantial cost to all of you.’
Hove Crown Court heard the protesters chose the M25 in order to cause maximum disruption in order to get the most media attention.
Read more: TFL director’s wife who joined Insulate Britain’s action to close M25 says it was ‘really really difficult’ for woman who couldn’t visit her dying relative because of protest – but tells court demo was ‘right thing to do’
The protest on September 13 2021 was planned to coincide with the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow.
As traffic slowed at a red lights at Junction 3 a group of a dozen protesters walked out into the carriageway.
Kent Police was hugely stretched on the day with just five police officers available to deal with the incident.
Due to the immediate impact on traffic police officers were hugely delayed in responding to the incident.
As a result the four protesters were not arrested and removed from the road for almost three hours.
They were originally arrested by police on suspicion of obstructing a highway but were later rearrested and charged with the more serious charge of causing a public nuisance.
The court was told Insulate Britain sent police a warning email to inform them they were planning to block the M25.
Although Kent Police had jurisdiction for that stretch of the M25 the email was sent to the Met Police the day before activists carried out their protest on September 13.
The email, sent to the Public Order Unit and senior officers, did not warn police of the exact location of the planned protest at Swanley interchange.
Alex Young, prosecuting, said: ‘Environmental activists were calling on the Government to improve home insulation and engaged in protests to try and persuade the Government to take action.’
He said the protests did not occur ‘at the gates of Downing Street or Parliament Square’ but took place on the highways and roads used by ordinary motorists.
‘It was the very first Insulate Britain protest and this was a new tactic. As a result the police were ill-prepared to deal with it.’
He said that due to the volume of traffic police struggled to get the the scene and when they did they needed to wait for sufficient numbers before they could begin to deal with the protesters.
Alexander Rodger, 33, arrives at court on Thursday and is one of the activists charged with causing a public nuisance
Venetia Carter arrives at Hove Crown Court. She said: ‘I took part that day in the hope that I would be able to make a positive difference’
Activists from the Insulate Britain protest group block a major roundabout near the Dartford crossing and M25 on September 15, 2021
He said: ‘There were concerns motorists might take matters into their own hands and remove the protesters themselves.’
Mr Young said some motorists were driving along the grass verges in an attempt to get round the blockage causing danger to the protesters and other drivers.
He said police had to ensure that did not happen but also had to ensure the rights of the protesters – to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly – were not infringed.
He said the Swanley interchange was a busy meeting point of several major roads including the M25.
‘That is why it was chosen by these protesters,’ he added. ‘We suggest that by doing this act they were committing a criminal offence.’
In his final speech, Alex Young, prosecuting, said: ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
‘For these protestors their good intentions and their view of the world and what needed to be done trumped all other considerations.’
‘The protesters did not have a mandate. No-one had voted for it. They did not give people at the roadside a choice.
‘They could have handed out leaflets and asked people if they wanted to join protest but they didn’t. They decided that they knew best and no democratic society can tolerate that.’
‘The police did not whip out their truncheons, their pepper spray or their riots shield and clear the protesters in short order. The police even offered an alternative site where they could continue their protest.’
Cameron Ford, 32, admitted that it was ‘really, really s***’ that the group’s actions affected a woman from being able to see her loved one in hospital
Venetia Carter, Cathy Eastburn, Alexander Rodger and Cameron Ford outside Hove Crown Court, which heard how Insulate Britain warned police it was planning to block the M25
In her speech Cathy Eastburn, the wife of former TfL director Benedict Plowden, said: ‘What we did was actually a public service, a public good. It was powerful alarm – annoying, yes, but unignorable. To wake people up.’
She said: ‘For decades now the more traditional methods for change such as writing to your MP, going on marches and signing petitions has failed. Drastic action is needed now.’
Eastburn, of London. said their actions prompted a lot of ‘vitriol and hatred’ but had also created headlines and space in which to explore environmental issues.
Motorists screamed insults at the group branding them ‘p****s’ and ‘f*****g idiots’ as they were trapped at the interchange.
‘Action is finally being taken by the Government to insulate homes, not enough, but a start. Our actions were proportionate, reasonable, appropriate and necessary for saving lives now and saving many more. It was the right thing to do in the circumstances.’
She said: ‘I’m truly sorry for the disruption we caused these people but it does not constitute a public nuisance.’
Eastburn, who has previous protest-related convictions, said the court had seen no information or data which spelt out the level of disruption and in dozens of previous cases involving Extinction Rebellion (XR) protests, activists had only ever been charged with the lesser offence of wilful obstruction of he highway.
In his speech Raj Chada, defending Rodger, said: ‘The senior officer at the scene, Inspector Thornton, made a decision to make arrests at about 10.40am for obstructing the highway having assessed the level of disruption and consulting a public order advisor
‘When Mr Rodger went to Swanley how could he have possibly known that it would take over three hours to remove 12 people. The delays was were caused in part because the police took so long to arrest them.’
The four will be sentenced on June 9.
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