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Activists jailed for seven weeks for defying ban on mentioning climate crisis

Insulate Britain members have been found guilty of ignoring a judge's ban on telling a jury why they were protesting

Anita Mureithi
3 March 2023, 5.11pm

Two Insulate Britain members have been handed seven-week prison sentences


Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Two environmental activists have been jailed for seven weeks after ignoring a judge’s ban on telling a jury that the climate crisis was their motivation for taking part in a roadblock protest in October 2021.

Earlier this week, Insulate Britain members Giovanna Lewis, Amy Pritchard and Paul Sheeky, appeared at the Inner London Crown Court, charged with causing a public nuisance by blocking a major junction in central London.

The trio were given a temporary reprieve on Thursday, when the case collapsed after the jury failed to reach a majority verdict despite 12 hours of deliberation.

But today Lewis and Pritchard were back in the dock charged with contempt of court, having defied a judge’s ban on telling the jury that they were protesting to bring awareness of climate change and fuel poverty.

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Silas Reid had forbidden the defendants from citing the climate crisis or fuel poverty as the reasons for their actions, telling them it was for “history to judge, not the jury”.

But during their closing statements, both Lewis and Pritchard made reference to the climate crisis when explaining why they staged a protest, prompting Reid to order the jury to leave the courtroom twice.

Today the defendants admitted to being in contempt of court. Reid gave both an opportunity to apologise and explain why they defied his ruling.

Lewis, a 65-year-old town councillor from Dorset, spoke first, telling Reid: “I continue to be astonished that today in a British court of law, a judge can or would even want to ban and criminalise the mention of the words ‘fuel poverty’ and ‘climate crisis’.

“I wanted to bring public attention to the scandal of thousands of deaths in the UK due to fuel poverty and thousands of deaths around the world due to climate change. There is no choice but to give voice to the truth.”

History shows that the law is not always in line with justice, so I cannot and I will not follow your rules

While she didn’t apologise, Lewis told the judge that she had hoped that the legal system would be sympathetic to people who are trying to save lives. “I now see how naive I have been,” she added.

Pritchard, a 38-year-old horticultural worker from London, was up next to outline her reasons for ignoring Reid’s ruling.

“I wanted to set the context of the action we took in this courtroom,” she started. “We are rapidly and willingly extinguishing the conditions necessary for life on earth. When so-called leaders are neglecting their basic duty, which is surely to preserve life, then it is more important for me to protect [life] than it is for me to be silent.

“History shows that the law is not always in line with justice, so I cannot and I will not follow your rules…”

“I don’t know how you can sit here and listen to lengthy explanations of traffic data, but prevent young people like Xavi from talking about the threat to our future and people around the world,” she said about 22-year-old activist Xavier Gonzalez-Trimmer, who was found dead in Richmond Park, south London, in February after being missing for almost a week.

Gonzalez-Trimmer, also accused of causing a public nuisance, was due to face trial at the same court later this month. The cause of his death has not yet been determined.

Pritchard continued, telling the judge that we are “staring total eco collapse in the face”.

“If the legal system is fit for purpose then surely we should not be in this situation in the first place.

“Lack of political action means that ordinary people have to act. I don't know why we’re so relaxed about this situation… I don't know why there’s no urgency from people in power, and I include you in that,” she said to Reid.

“I ask you to turn your laser-focused attention to bringing justice to the people who are rapidly destroying the conditions we need for life on earth.”

Roughly 50 public nuisance cases linked to Insulate Britain are being heard this year in London, Hove, Lewes and Reading crown courts. This, says Pritchard, is a “political decision from a government that is in bed with the fossil fuel industry… and the media.”

“Maybe me doing this isn’t doing anything, but I think that my silence is more dangerous,” Pritchard finished.

Passing his sentencing, Reid told the defendants that there is nothing to distinguish between them and David Nixon, who was also jailed for contempt of court last month.

Lewis and Pritchard are set to serve half of their sentence.

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