Sheffield man freed from prison after challenging fracking protest sentence

A Sheffield man has been freed from prison today after challenging a prison sentence imposed over an anti-fracking protest.

Simon Roscoe Blevins, aged 26, of Andover Street, Burngreave, is one of three men granted their freedom today after successfully challenging prison sentences imposed after they were convicted of causing a public nuisance outside a fracking site in Lancaster.

Simon Roscoe Blevins (Pic: Free Frack Four)

Simon Roscoe Blevins (Pic: Free Frack Four)

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Their lawyers challenged their custodial sentences at the Royal Courts of Justice.

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More than 100 supporters gathered outside the building in London before the hearing.

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Last month soil scientist Blevins and teacher Richard Roberts, 36, of London, were both jailed for 16 months and piano restorer Richard Loizou, 31, from Devon, was received a 15 month sentence after they climbed onto lorries to prevent them deliveries supplies to energy firm Cuadrilla's fracking site in Preston New Road, Little Plumpton.

Their sentences have been replaced with conditional discharges.

They were the first environmental protesters to be imprisoned since 1932.

Quashing their jail terms, 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 judgement 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.

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

The organisations argued the sentences were ‘disproportionate’ and interfered 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."