Insulate Britain eco-activists jailed for talking about climate crisis in trial, defying judge's orders

3 March 2023, 20:55 | Updated: 4 March 2023, 03:53

Lewis and Pritchard glued themselves to the street
Lewis and Pritchard glued themselves to the street. Picture: Alamy/Getty

By Kit Heren

Two Insulate Britain activists have been sent to prison for referring to the climate crisis in their trial for causing a public nuisance, after they glued themselves to a busy London road.

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Dorset councillor Giovanna Lewis, 65, and horticultural worker Amy Pritchard, 38, had been ordered by the judge not to talk about the environment or fuel poverty in their defence during the trial.

But the pair, who defended themselves in court, broke Silas Reid's order and were found in contempt of court on Friday. They were sentenced to seven weeks' imprisonment, of which they will serve half.

The two were part of a larger group who glued themselves to Bishopsgate in the City of London in October 2021. The jury failed to reach verdicts on the public nuisance charge, and prosecutors indicated that they may seek a retrial.

Judge Reid told the defendants they had sought to "set themselves above the law" by mentioning aspects of their motivation in carrying out the October protest that were not relevant to jury deliberations.

Lewis and Pritchard outside the court
Lewis and Pritchard outside the court. Picture: Alamy

He concluded that the defendants had either set out to "manipulate" the jury into acquitting them even if they were sure of the pair's guilt, or to use the trial to continue their protest within the courtroom.

"Either motivation would be serious as you would be seeking to set yourselves above the law," the judge said.

"Each of you has clear disdain for the judicial process. Your contempts are very serious as they represent complete contempt for the court and court process."

He added: "Most importantly though, in my mind, is the need of the court to protect its process. Not out of any sense of pride or importance, but because the rule of law is vital.

"All people are treated as equals in the courts. No side has the advantage of the court determining that their cause is just, or that the law should be bent or broken because of any personal views a judge may or may not have.

Police officers dissolve the glue on a protester's hand on Bishopsgate
Police officers dissolve the glue on a protester's hand on Bishopsgate. Picture: Getty

"If people are allowed to circumvent the court process just because they feel they should be entitled to, then the system would not be able to be relied on by every member of society.

"You each decided that rather than show respect for the court process you would set yourselves up as individual arbiters of what is fair and proper. That is real contempt."

The defendants had each elected to have a Crown Court trial - heard before a jury of members of the public - instead of a summary trial at a magistrates' court.

Read more: Two months of chaos: A timeline of Insulate Britain's disruptive protests

Read more: Mum who 'nudged' Insulate Britain protester with 4x4 says conviction is 'huge injustice'

Asked by the judge whether they wished him to take anything into consideration in sentencing, Lewis said: "I continue to be astonished that today in a British court, a judge can or would even want to criminalise the mention of the words fuel poverty or climate crisis.

"There are thousands of deaths each year in the UK from fuel poverty and thousands of deaths around the world due to climate change. In the future this will be millions."

A man being arrested during the demonstration
A man being arrested during the demonstration. Picture: Getty

She added: "Your ruling that why we did this was completely irrelevant was quashing the human spirit and the heart and you can only do that so much but it has to speak and that is the place I spoke from. Speaking from the heart and not allowing my soul to be repressed in the way that your rulings were doing."

Pritchard said the world is "staring total eco-system collapse in the face" and criticised "those in power" for failing to act. Addressing the judge directly, she said: "I include you in that and I wonder if people are too comfortable to feel the urgency." Several supporters watching proceedings from the public gallery were warned not to disrupt proceedings by the judge before applauding at the end of the hearing.

Speaking to the PA news agency outside court ahead of the hearing, Ms Lewis branded the ruling "unbelievable" and an attack on civil liberties.

But she added that she had "committed to going to prison" when she broke the law and did not want to act like a "martyr". She said: "Nobody wants to go to prison but in order to stand up for what's right, for our civil liberties in court, it's the price that we have to pay."

Just released Insulate Britain activist says she would do it again

Ms Pritchard said: "I feel that my responsibility here is not to the judge and to this court, my responsibility is much wider. It's to young people who are rightly worried about their futures and my responsibilities to our global families who are already suffering and dying, to the world's ecosystems and also to future generations."

She added that she had interpreted the hung jury as a "promising sign" that some sections of the public may be sympathetic to Insulate Britain's cause.

"I think it's a sign that people are really concerned about the issues that we're raising, and perhaps also concerned that we're being blocked from talking about them in court," she said.

"History has shown that the law is not always in line with justice, and I think this is another example of that.

"This situation is completely unprecedented. The legal system is not fit for purpose to deal with it and to deal with people trying to intervene."

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