'First' fuel protester convicted over Just Stop Oil blockades following Thurrock disruption

Essex Police say they have arrested total of 461 people in connection with fuel protests in the county. Credit: Essex Police

A 64-year-old woman is believed to be the first person to be convicted over ongoing nationwide fuel site protests.

Essex Police said Catherine Maclean, of Hurstpierpoint, Hassocks, in West Sussex, admitted a charge of aggravated trespass following an incident in Thurrock on Wednesday, 13 April. 

The force claimed Maclean's conviction was the first of its kind in the country, following recent weeks' Just Stop Oil protests up and down the country.

Maclean admitted the charge at Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court on Saturday, 17 April. 

She was ordered to pay a total of £409, including a £270 fine, £105 in court costs and a £34 victim surcharge.

Officers from the Protester Removal Team work to free a Just Stop Oil activist from beneath the ground at the Titan Truck Park in Essex. Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Maclean appeared alongside James Skeet, 34, of Drayton Street, Manchester, and Stephanie Aylett, 27, of High Oaks, St Albans, in court on Saturday.

The pair were also charged with aggravated trespass and breach of bail conditions.

Both denied the offences and challenged the bail breach. 

Magistrates heard how both Skeet and Aylett had been arrested multiple times in Essex since the incidents of disruption began in the early hours of April 1.

Both were remanded into custody to appear in the same court next week. 

Just Stop Oil protesters have blockaded sites up and down the country, as they call for an end to investment into fossil fuels in a bid to protect the environment.

The demonstrations coincided with Extinction Rebellion's week of action in London, in which protesters blocked bridges and roads to draw attention to their campaign to save the climate.

Immediate action needs to be taken to limit the impact of global warming across the world, according to a new report into climate change.

The protests came as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) this month released a report containing stark warnings that the world must act 'now or never'.

The report found greenhouse gas emission levels were at their highest in history between 2010 and 2019.

Although rate of growth in emissions has reduced, the report says: "Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, limiting global warming to 1.5°C is beyond reach."

Police work to free a Just Stop Oil activist at a blockade in Grays, Essex, in early April. Credit: PA

Essex Police said in a statement on Sunday (17 April) that 23 people had been charged in connection with disruption caused in Thurrock over the past 17 days. 

Assistant Chief Constable Rachel Nolan said it had been a "challenging investigation" amid weeks of disruption. 

“Sadly, Ms Maclean’s actions means she now has a criminal record. No one – least of all my officers – wants to see this happen but it is a timely reminder that if you come to Essex to engage in trespass, even though you may see it as protest, you will be arrested, you will be charged and that is likely to lead to a criminal conviction.

She continued: “We are not anti-protest in any way; individuals have a protected right to protest but these incidents have unfortunately crossed into criminality and we have been left with no other option but act and seek authorisation from the Crown Prosecution Service to charge people.” 

Detective Superintendent Stephen Jennings, who is overseeing the Essex Police investigation, added: “Unfortunately for Ms Maclean, she had no option but to admit the offence she was charged with."

He added: “Our message to anyone intent on causing disruption here in Essex is clear and simple; don’t do it, our officers will arrest you and our first-class investigators will build a case against you, leaving you with very little option but admit the offences.” 

By Saturday, the total number of arrests Essex Police had made during the fuel protests was 461. 

The cost of policing the protests in Essex has topped over a million pounds. Credit: Essex Police

ACC Nolan added: “This is not how I envisaged a significant number of officers being deployed on this Easter Bank Holiday weekend. 

She said police were working alongside companies affected by the protests.

“Security of those sites is paramount, and we remain in dialogue with the industry on how they can best protect their private property against trespass. This is a key element in the longer-term and partnership-wide response to these incidents. 

“The role of policing is not one of private security; we respond to incidents of criminality and – where those are reported – we will of course continue to respond appropriately, arrest people where we believe offences have been committed and charge those who we believe are responsible. 

ACC Nolan also issued a warning to fuel protesters following the conviction.

She said: “I would encourage anyone who may be preparing to take part in renewed disruption this Bank Holiday weekend to re-think your plans. Each time you do this sadly makes you one step closer to having a criminal record.”

“Their first duty is to protect the good people of Essex whilst they enjoy days with family and friends across our county, whether that be on Southend seafront, at Clacton Pier, Epping Forest or simply shopping in Chelmsford High Street. 

“They would much rather be out among your communities, protecting you and catching criminals.”