Crowd gathers outside court as Sheffield man appeals prison sentence

A crowd has gathered outside the Royals Courts of Justice as a Sheffield man challenges his prison sentence today.

Wednesday, 17th October 2018, 12:15 pm
Updated Wednesday, 17th October 2018, 12:23 pm
Simon Blevins (Pic: Frack Free Four)

Around 100 supporters have turned out to back Simon Roscoe Blevins, aged 26, from Andover Street, Burngreave, and two other environmental campaigners, who are appealing against prison sentences imposed for a protest they staged outside a fracking site in Lancashire in July last year.

CRIME: Killer still on the run nine weeks after fatal stabbing in Sheffield They were convicted of causing a public nuisance for climbing on top of a convoy of lorries to prevent supplies being delivered to energy for Cuadrilla's site in Little Plumpton, Lancashire.

Simon Blevins (Pic: Frack Free Four)

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Soil scientist Blevins, 26, and teacher Richard Roberts, 36, of London, were each jailed for 26 months.

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Piano restorer Rich Loizou, 31, from Devon, was sentenced to 15 months behind bars.

Speaking before the Court of Appeal hearing on Wednesday, 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,' she added.

"I think it's backfired massively. I think it's made ordinary people think this is the wrong, we shouldn't be allowing it."

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."

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."