Just Stop Oil protesters sentenced for blocking Esso petrol station at Grays in Essex

Campaigners Dr Patrick Hart, Ruth Cook, Joy Corrigan, and Stephen Jarvis, outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, where they have received a suspended prison sentence after breaching a High Court injunction by blocking access to a petrol station during a Just Stop Oil protest. 
Credit: PA
Campaigners Dr Patrick Hart, Ruth Cook, Joy Corrigan, and Stephen Jarvis received suspended sentences. Credit: PA

A group of five Just Stop Oil activists have received suspended prison sentences after breaching a High Court injunction by blocking access to a petrol station.

Ruth Cook, 70, Joy Corrigan, 71, Dr Patrick Hart, 36, Stephen Jarvis, 66, and George Oakenfold, 78, all admitted breaking terms of a civil order granted to Thurrock Council and Essex County Council.

The local authorities secured the injunction in May to “restrain unlawful acts of protest” in their areas, including forbidding blocking any petrol station and interfering with deliveries or refuelling, the court was told.

A hearing in London on Friday was told how environmental protesters sat in the road preventing entry to an Esso petrol station at Thurrock Motorway Services in Grays, Essex, on 24 August this year.

Dr Hart, an NHS GP, also caused thousands of pounds worth of damage to 16 pumps with a hammer and by spraying them with orange paint, a judge was also told.

Mr Justice Bourne said the case involved a “deliberate flouting of a court order” and that the harm caused was “not lessened” by protesters having “conscientious motives”.

Ms Cook, Ms Corrigan, Mr Jarvis and Mr Oakenfold were all handed a four-week sentence, suspended for two years, on condition they did not breach injunctions again.

Dr Hart received a sentence of four months, suspended for two years on condition he committed no further breaches, and was also ordered to pay a £2,000 fine.

The judge said he accepted the protesters’ assurances they would not breach the injunction again, saying he took their “good character” and “open and candid approach to the court” into account when suspending their sentences.

Natalie Pratt, for the councils, said in written submissions that protesters, part of a larger group of 11 people, had “blocked, slowed down, obstructed or otherwise interfered with vehicular access” at the petrol station between about 5.18am and 6.56am.

Dr Hart also “obstructed or otherwise interfered with the refuelling of vehicles” at the location.

She said the councils “do not doubt the sincerity” of the activists’ beliefs, but argued their “pre-meditated, intentional, and wilful” breaches had caused harm.

This included interfering with people’s ability to refuel at the petrol station, that was blocked off for about 90 minutes.

She said Dr Hart’s actions “went far beyond peaceful civil disobedience and crossed the line into wilful law-breaking beyond that necessary and acceptable in the expression of his sincere moral beliefs”.

The cost of repairing the pumps was £9,376.27, Ms Pratt said, adding that the forecourt was not fully operational until 6pm the next day.

The temporary closure of the forecourt led to lost profits of £1,146.06, the barrister added.

Campaigner George Oakenfold, 78, outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London. Credit: PA

She said police had confirmed that none of the protesters had glued themselves to the road or “locked-on” to anything, and the wider road network was not affected by their actions.

The protesters, who were unrepresented by lawyers, told the judge they felt it was their duty to highlight the risks of climate change through protest.

Ms Cook, a training company managing director from near Frome, Somerset, said people were “in denial” that they were “heading for a climate catastrophe”, and warned of potential mass migration due to global warming.

A Quaker and grandmother, she said “urgent and substantial government action is required”, arguing her protest was “limited, targeted” and “entirely reasonable”.

Ms Corrigan, a carer from Highworth, Wiltshire, said there appeared to be “never-ending reports of climate chaos throughout the world”, adding: “We have to do something about it. How else could I look my grandchildren in the eye?”

“Our request to stop new oil licences is not a huge request,” she said.

Mr Oakenfold, from Bristol, said Just Stop Oil’s demand for “no new fossil fuel extraction” was “moderate”.

Speaking about his three children, he said: “I regret bitterly that I don’t think that they will be able to just enjoy living in this world as I have done because of climate change.”

Dr Hart, a GP of 12 years from Bristol, said: “The best available evidence tells us that we are on course to lose everything that we care about, to destroy our country and our future.”

He said he had caused “negligible” harm to a company worth “many hundreds of billions”.

The doctor said that non-violent, civil protest action was “the last line of defence” between “a liveable future where the rule of law ensures safety and guarantees rights for all of us or a future of absolute chaos and misery”.

Mr Jarvis, from north Devon, accused the government of “enabling the oil corporations to continue making obscene profits” and was “in breach of its own responsibility to keep its citizens safe”.

He claimed injunctions were used “primarily to protect the oil industries that are killing us and crush legitimate and vital protest against government policies".

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