Three anti-fracking activists have prison sentences quashed on appeal

Three men who were jailed for protesting outside a fracking site have had their "manifestly excessive" sentences quashed on appeal.

The activists had been sent to prison over their 100-hour demonstration at the Cuadrilla site in Little Plumpton, Lancashire.

Soil scientist Simon Blevins, 26, teacher Richard Roberts, 36, and piano restorer Rich Loizou, 31, were released by the Court of Appeal on Wednesday.

Rich Loizou (l), Richard Roberts (c) and Simon Blevins (r). Credit: PA

Blevins and Roberts had been jailed for 16 months and Loizou for 15 months, but these sentences were replaced by conditional discharges.

However, the trio have vowed to carry on with their protests and lawyers representing them say a challenge to the original convictions may be in the offing.

Cuadrilla's fracking site in Little Plumpton, Lancashire. Credit: PA

Blevins, Roberts and Loizou climbed on to lorries during the protest last July.

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.

It comes after further protests took place outside the site earlier this week.

Activists warned that their fight had "just got serious".

Rich Loizou protesting outside Cuadrilla's base in Preston New Road in Little Plumpton, Lancashire. Credit: Press Association

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."

  • The men protesting outside the Cuadrilla site in July 2017

Supporters in the packed courtroom, who had gathered outside for a demonstration before the hearing, erupted into applause as the decision was announced.

The three men, who appeared via video link, threw their arms in the air in celebration.

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.

  • Appeal judge quashes sentence

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.

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said: "Today's ruling is a major cause for celebration not just for activists, but for everyone whose home, community and climate are threatened by reckless industrialisation."

In a statement read on their behalf by Roberts' partner Michelle Easton, the trio said: "Today's decision affirms that when people peacefully break the law out of a moral obligation to prevent things such as the fossil fuel industry they should not be sent to prison.

"The fracking industry threatens to industrialise our beautiful countryside. It will cause famine, flooding and many other disasters on the world’s most vulnerable communities by exacerbating climate change.

"Fracking is beginning right now, so there has never been a more crucial moment to take action. Your planet needs you."