Nine Insulate Britain eco zealots were today jailed at the High Court after admitting breaching an injunction designed to prevent the group’s road blockades on the M25 which caused two months of misery for motorists.
Two of the activists were jailed for three months, a further six were imprisoned for four months and the ninth – Ben Taylor, 27 – received six months after boasting he would immediately block the motorway again if not imprisoned.
Ben Buse, 36, Ana Heyatawin, 58, Louis McKechnie, 20, Roman Paluch-Machnik, 28, Oliver Rock, 41, Emma Smart, 44, Tim Speers, 36, James Thomas, 47, and Mr Taylor all said they stood by their actions before sentencing.
The group and its supporters chanted ‘We are unstoppable, another world is possible’ as they were led to the cells through the dock by security officers at the court in London. Heyatawin and McKechnie were both jailed for three months while Buse, Paluch-Machnik, Rock, Smart, Speers and Thomas all received four-month sentences.
After the sentencing, Smart insisted that she would go on hunger strike in prison. Insulate Britain began a wave of protests on September 13, demanding that the Government makes plans to insulate the UK’s homes. They blocked roads around London as well as in Birmingham, Manchester and Dover – causing miles of tailbacks in rush hour.
The demonstrations have seen the campaigners glue themselves to the road before being removed by police. At least 174 activists have been involved on 19 days of protests so far and there have been 860 arrests.
It is not yet clear which prison those jailed today will be sent to, but MailOnline has asked the group’s legal team for details. MailOnline has also asked the group why some protesters received three months and others got four.
It comes after Taylor told the court yesterday that if he was not in jail he would ‘go and block the motorway at the earliest opportunity and will continue to do so until the Government makes a meaningful statement and acts on it’.
Taylor’s submissions were described today by Dame Victoria Sharp as ‘inflammatory’ and a ‘call to arms’, and he was therefore given a longer sentence of six months ‘to deter (him) from committing further breaches’.
The judge, sitting with Mr Justice Chamberlain, said there was no alternative to jail sentences given the group’s actions were so serious and they had made it clear they intended to further flout court orders. She said: ‘The defendants, or some of them, seem to want to be martyrs for their cause and the media campaign surrounding this hearing appears designed to suggest this. We, however, have to act dispassionately and proportionately.’
A further 23 protesters have also defied one or more of several injunctions granted to Transport for London and National Highways over the past two months. And Insulate Britain said it expects these 23 people to be summoned in the coming days, which would bring the total to at least 32 people who are due to face contempt of court.
Lawyers representing the Government said further committal proceedings will be issued against other Insulate Britain protesters and were expected to be brought by the end of the week, relating to protests on October 27. Evidence is also being gathered to bring proceedings in relation to protests on October 29 and November 2.
Raj Chada, solicitor at Hodge Jones and Allen law firm which supported the protesters, said: ‘With these prison terms, the long and honourable tradition of civil disobedience is under attack again. Rather than leaving courts to imprison those that raise the alarm, it should be the Government that acts to protect us against the climate crisis.’
Six of the nine Insulate Britain activists arrive at the High Court in London for sentencing this morning
Nine Insulate Britain eco zealots were today jailed at the High Court after admitting breaching an injunction on protesting
Insulate Britain activist Ben Taylor (left) arrives at the High Court in London for sentencing this morning
Insulate Britain activist Emma Smart (left) waves as she arrives at the High Court in London for sentencing this morning
Insulate Britain activist Tim Speers receives a hug as he arrives at the High Court for sentencing this morning
Labour MP John McDonnell (left) talks with Insulate Britain activist Oliver Rock (right) at the High Court in London today
Insulate Britain activist Ana Heyatawin arrives at the High Court in London today for sentencing this morning
Insulate Britain activist Roman Paluch (right) walks into the High Court in London for sentencing today
Insulate Britain activist Cathy Eastburn (right) hugs a fellow protester ahead of the sentencing at the High Court today
Insulate Britain said the protesters were expected to serve at least half of their sentence. They had been facing a maximum penalty of two years in prison or an unlimited fine for contempt of court.
The group has insisted it intends to continue with the protests until the Government agrees to insulate homes.
Jail sentences given to the Insulate Britain nine
- Ana Heyatawin, 58 – three months
- Ben Taylor, 27 – four months
- James Thomas, 47 – four months
- Benjamin Buse, 36 – four months
- Emma Smart, 44 – four months
- Louis McKechnie, 20 – four months
- Oliver Rock, 41 – four months
- Roman Paluch-Machnik, 28 – four months
- Tim Speers, 36 – four months
An Insulate Britain spokesman said today: ‘This morning our Insulate Britain supporters have been sentenced.
‘We are being failed and betrayed by our government. Our nine chose not to standby and be complicit in genocide.’
During yesterday’s hearing, Taylor said if he was ‘not put in prison’ for breaching an injunction banning disruptive protests on the nation’s roads, he will ‘go and block the motorway at the earliest opportunity and will continue to do so until the Government makes a meaningful statement and acts on it’.
He added that ‘whatever sentence or sanction’ he was given ‘will be counter-productive and will only serve to fuel the campaign of Insulate Britain’.
Taylor said: ‘If you send me away to prison, ten people will step forward in my place. If you send each of us away, 100 people will step forward and take our places. If you send 100 of us away, 1,000 people will step forward to take our place.
‘If you somehow manage to stop all non-violent protests, then things will only turn violent.’
And Smart told the court she was there to ‘ensure future survival’.
She said: ‘That’s what it boils down to. I am proud of what I did and I stand by my actions.
‘I’m asking when you consider my sentence that my actions are proportionate to the crisis we are facing, where 8,500 people die a year from cold and hunger in their own homes.
Insulate Britain has released photographs of some of the faces among its 32 activists who face up to two years in prison for contempt of court. They are (left to right, first row): Ruth Jarman, Dr Diana Warner, Rowan Tilly, Jess Causby, Steve Gower, Liam Norton, Greg Frey, Reverend Sue Parfitt, (second row) Mark Latimer, Dr Ben Buse, Gabby Ditton, Arne Springorum, Tony Hill, Theresa Norton, Stephanie, Emma Smart (third row) Emily Brockelbank, Biff Whipster, Amy Pritchard, Paul Sheeky, Louis McKechnie (bottom row) Roman Paluch, Ben Taylor, Ana Heyatawin, David, Oliver Rock, Tracey Mallaghan and Tim Speers
Ana Heyatawin (left), 58, has been at protests and glued her hand to the road on the M25 at Thurrock on October 13 (right)
Emma Smart (left), 44, is also at the High Court today after blocking the M25 at junction 31 in Thurrock on October 13 (right)
Ben Taylor (left), 27, is among the Insulate Britain nine. He protested at Parliament Square in London on November 4 (right)
Dr Ben Buse, a Bristol University researcher from Somerset, is at the High Court today (left) after being involved in various Insulate Britain protests – including one (right) near South Mimms at the junction of the M25 and A1 on November 2
Roman Paluch (left), 28, and Tim Speers (right), 36, are also among the nine Insulate Britain activists at the High Court today
Louis McKenchnie (left), 20, and James Thomas (right), 47, are both appearing at the High Court for the hearing today
Insulate Britain protesters (back row left to right) Tim Speers, Roman Paluch, Emma Smart, Ben Taylor, James Thomas, (front row left to right) Louis McKechnie, Ana Heyatawin and Oliver Roc pose for a photograph ahead of their High Court hearing
‘I am doing everything I can to protect the most vulnerable people in society. We are all vulnerable in a climate crisis. No-one is immune and no-one is safe. When I see injustice I cannot stand by and watch harm to life.’
What is contempt of court and could the nine have been jailed for longer?
‘Contempt of court’ is an offence that normally happens when someone risks unfairly influencing a court case, which may stop somebody from getting a fair trial.
It can include taking photos or shouting out in court, refusing to answer questions as a witness or publicly commenting on a court case such as on social media.
Another form it takes is disobeying or ignoring a court order, which is what the Insulate Britain activists have done by breaking an injunction on their M25 protests.
Those who breach the injunctions were found in contempt of court and could have faced a maximum penalty of two years in prison or an unlimited fine. In the end, they were jailed for between three and six months.
The High Court has so far issued five injunctions to prevent protesters from blocking roads – four to National Highways and one to Transport for London (TfL).
The hearings did not taking place in a criminal court because none of the protesters have been charged with a criminal offence by police. This is despite at least 161 activists having been involved in the demonstrations over the two months, resulting in at least 860 arrests.
The protesters were instead facing contempt of court proceedings for breaching a High Court injunction, which is a civil matter but can still result in a jail term.
Smart compared watching the climate crisis to watching a child trapped in a burning house. She said: ‘I cannot stand by and watch. I would run to them.’
She told the court: ‘Our Government is betraying us, our vulnerable people and our children’s future. I will not be a bystander while our Government fails and betrays its people, I will continue to do what is necessary.’
Speers described the country’s democracy as ‘steeped in lies’ and said ‘good people have a duty to breach bad laws’.
He said: ‘In this world, those trying to avert catastrophe are vilified. On a tradition of non-violent protest, in response, the Government said they will ‘do everything to we can to stop them.’
‘That was from Grant Shapps, who had a second job under another name.’
Paluch-Machnik told the court the injunction ‘is not just in context with the crisis we’re in’.
He said: ‘The Government would rather imprison pensioners than insulate their homes.’
Mr Paluch said retrofitting homes is the cheapest way to tackle the climate crisis and added: ‘We are asking for a fully funded state-operated retrofitted service, like the NHS.
‘Some of those who have spoken have said they’re not afraid. I’m afraid you will take away my home and me away from my friends, family and partner.
‘But I’m more afraid of inaction and the climate catastrophe that has already began to crash on some of us. I stand by the action that brought me before this court, and if that sends me to prison, then so be it.’
He urged the court to look at ‘more than the letter of the law’ and ‘make the commitment to insulate Britain’.
Heyatawin told the High Court she is ‘traumatised’ by the Government’s attitude to climate change.
She said she ‘does not accept the morality of the injunction’ and said ‘it is meaningless in the context of climate collapse’.
Ms Heyatawin added: ‘I know how to behave. I think I’m a good person. I felt compelled to stop the world and get off. We are hurtling towards ecocide, genocide and our own suicide.’
NOVEMBER 4 — A truck carrying insulation was blocked by Insulate Britain protesters at Parliament Square in Westminster
NOVEMBER 2 — Protesters from Insulate Britain are removed by police after they block a road near Manchester Airport
OCTOBER 27 — Insulate Britain protesters block the A40 junction with Gypsy Lane in North Acton, West London
OCTOBER 25 — Climate activists from the Insulate Britain group block a road near Canary Wharf in East London
Rock invited the court to observe a minute’s silence ‘to imagine what the climate crisis means for the future’. He said: ‘I’m proud of our actions and I stand by what we have done, we have not done this for personal gain.
Insulate Britain: How activists have made a mockery of the law during two months of chaotic demonstrations
September 13 – 78 Insulate Britain protesters arrested after blocking junctions 3, 6, 14, 20 and 31 of the M25
September 15 – More than 50 protesters arrested after targeting junctions 1, 8, 9 and 23 of the M25
September 17 – 48 protesters arrested after targeting junctions 3, 9 and 28 of the M25, as well as the M3
September 20 – 29 protesters are arrested after blocking the M25 at junctions 4 and 18, as well as the A1
September 21 – Protesters risk death by running into moving traffic to block the carriageway near Junction 10. Some 38 arrests are made. National Highways obtains an injunction against further protests on the M25
September 22 – Protesters burn copies of the injunction outside the Home Office, blocking the road outside the ministry. No arrests are made
September 24 – 39 protesters arrested after blocking roads at three locations in Dover. They are all released under investigation. National Highways obtains a second injunction covering Dover.
September 27 – 53 protesters are arrested for blocking a slip road at Junction 14 of the M25. They are all released under investigation.
September 28 – National Highways says it is taking ‘legal advice’ over how to enforce its injunction
September 29 – 27 protesters are arrested for blocking a roundabout at Junction 3 of the M25 on two occasions
September 30 – Protesters return to junction 30 at Thurrock in Essex, and nine are arrested
October 1: The group block the M4 at junction 3, the M1 at junction 1 and M25 at junction 25. Some 39 arrests
October 2: Third injunction bans them from obstructing traffic and access to motorways and major A roads in and around London
October 4: 38 arrests after protesters block three major roads in London – the Blackwall Tunnel, Wandsworth Bridge and A40 and North Circular at Hanger Lane.
October 8: 19 arrested over protest at Old Street roundabout and a further 16 on the M25 at junction 24. Transport for London gets a High Court injunction to ban them from obstructing traffic in 14 locations in London.
October 13: Protesters return to the M25 at junction 31 and a nearby industrial estate, with 35 people arrested.
October 25: Activists target areas around Southwark Bridge, Canary Wharf and Liverpool Street station. Some 53 are arrested.
October 27: Protesters blockade the A40 in North Acton, West London, and a major roundabout next to the Dartford Crossing in Kent. Kent Police arrested 32 protesters, while the Metropolitan Police detained 17.
October 29: 10 activists are arrested after walking onto the M25 between junctions 28 and 29 in Essex
November 2: Police arrest 20 activists before they can even get onto the M25 at junction 23 for South Mimms, but other actions take place on the M56 in Manchester, with 11 arrests, and the A4400 in Birmingham
November 4: Some 62 protesters sit down at Parliament Square in Westminster
‘I take responsibility for my actions and I did that in an attempt to mitigate the suffering of people in this country who cannot afford to adequately heat their homes.’
The only defendant to have a lawyer was Dr Ben Buse, a Bristol University researcher. Owen Greenhall told the court Dr Buse was active in his local church and a highly regarded member of the community.
Myriam Stacey QC, representing National Highways, told the court the message that the defendants are ‘proud of their conduct’ and ‘will continue to defy the injunction order made’ is ‘loud and clear’.
She added: ‘No apology has been made in relation to the breach of the order.’
Ms Stacey said the group had emailed National Highways in September saying the protests would continue ‘unless the Government make a meaningful statement that they will start the process of decarbonising homes in Britain’.
Ms Stacey said further committal proceedings will be issued against other Insulate Britain protesters by the end of the week, relating to protests on October 27.
She also said evidence is being gathered to bring proceedings in relation to protests on October 29 and November 2. All nine defendants were sentenced by Dame Victoria Sharp and Mr Justice Chamberlain.
An emotional Mr Rock told LBC radio yesterday: ‘I feel terrified – I’m c***ping myself this morning, and I feel like crying. I’ve got all these emotions coming out of me. It seems ridiculous that we’re in this situation.
‘What we’re asking the Government to do is just an extremely practical no-brainer thing that they should be doing, and they’re choosing instead to potentially lock us up, fine us, seize our assets.
‘I’m expecting that we might get sentenced maybe today, probably tomorrow. We’ve been told that quite probably we’ll get custodial sentences, so there’s a high likelihood that by this evening I’ll be in a prison cell somewhere.’
The Government plans to introduce new measures to clamp down on protests, including allowing police to stop and search people where there is a reasonable suspicion they are carrying items intended to cause disturbance, such as glue.
After today’s sentencing a statement from the nine activists jailed was read by an Insulate Britain supporter outside the Royal Courts of Justice.
It read: ‘Over the last nine weeks, 174 ordinary people have held the Government to account, asking that they deliver on their most basic of duties, to protect the British people, the economy and all we hold dear in our society.
‘Your Government has now chosen to act. It has chosen to imprison us for this demand.
‘By imprisoning us, the Government shows its cowardice. They would rather lock up pensioners than insulate their homes.
‘They would rather lock up teachers than create thousands of proper jobs.
‘They would rather lock up young people than take practical steps to reduce emissions.
‘They will lock us up and leave thousands to die of cold this winter. We knew we would face prison when we took this action, but we could not stand by while the Government betrays the general public.’
The activists’ statement continued: ‘Following the widely recognised failure of our Government at Cop26, we are continuing to ask them to get on with the job – of cutting carbon emissions, of insulating cold and leaky houses, of protecting the people of this country from climate collapse – because the lives of our children and those of all future generations hang in the balance.
‘To the Government we say, you can’t imprison a flood, there are no unlimited fines against a famine, you can’t bankrupt a fire.
‘To the public we say, no-one is coming to save you. In the past, when governments have failed to protect their people the right thing to do is to highlight this injustice, breaking the law if needed, this is what the suffragettes and Martin Luther King did, and it is what Insulate Britain has done.
OCTOBER 13 — Protesters from Insulate Britain block the M25 at junction 31 near to the Dartford Crossing in Thurrock, Essex
OCTOBER 1 — Insulate Britain protesters block a roundabout at Junction 3 of the M4 near London Heathrow Airport
SEPTEMBER 27 — Police officers detain a protester from Insulate Britain occupying an M25 roundabout leading to Heathrow
SEPTEMBER 24 — Police officers remove two protesters from the top of a tanker as Insulate Britain block the A20 in Dover
SEPTEMBER 20 — Police officers work to free protesters who had glued themselves to junction 4 of the A1(M) near Hatfield
‘We call on you to recognise that you also have a duty to act, as our Government is betraying us. They can’t even act to insulate Britain. What hope do we have of them protecting our children, our economy or our country?’
‘The Government would rather lock up pensioners than insulate their homes’: IB supporter reads out letter in court
After today’s sentencing an Insulate Britain supporter read out the following letter in court, which said:
‘Over the last nine weeks, 174 ordinary people have held the government to account, asking that they deliver on their most basic of duties, to protect the British people, the economy and all we hold dear in our society. Your government has now chosen to act. It has chosen to imprison us for this demand.
‘By imprisoning us, the government shows its cowardice. They would rather lock up pensioners than insulate their homes. They would rather lock up teachers than create thousands of proper jobs.
‘They would rather lock up young people than take practical steps to reduce emissions. They will lock us up and leave thousands to die of cold this winter. We knew we would face prison when we took this action, but we could not stand by while the government betrays the general public.
‘Following the widely recognised failure of our government at COP26, we are continuing to ask them to get on with the job: of cutting carbon emissions; of insulating cold and leaky houses; of protecting the people of this country from climate collapse, because the lives of our children and those of all future generations hang in the balance.
‘To the government we say, you can’t imprison a flood, there are no unlimited fines against a famine, you can’t bankrupt a fire.
‘To the public we say, no one is coming to save you. In the past, when governments have failed to protect their people the right thing to do is to highlight this injustice, breaking the law if needed, this is what the suffragettes and Martin Luther King did and it is what Insulate Britain has done.
‘We call on you to recognise that you also have a duty to act, as our government is betraying us. They can’t even act to insulate Britain. What hope do we have of them protecting our children, our economy or our country?
‘We say to those who look on in fear and denial: this will impact you and all that you love and look at what we did. A few hundred people captured the country’s attention for months. Think what 1000 people can achieve? You have a choice. To act, to come and join us help change the tide of history, or to be a bystander and be complicit in enabling genocide. This tide will not come again, will you join us?’
The statement concluded: ‘We say to those who look on in fear and denial – this will impact you and all that you love, and look at what we did.
‘A few hundred people captured the country’s attention for months. Think what 1,000 people can achieve?
‘You have a choice. To act, to come and join us help change the tide of history, or to be a bystander and be complicit in enabling genocide.
‘This tide will not come again, will you join us?’
Following the sentencing, Greenpeace UK programme director Pat Venditti said: ‘Jailing climate activists during a climate crisis is like silencing a smoke alarm while half the building is on fire.
‘What this country needs are fewer injunctions and more insulation. Instead of cracking down on climate activism, the UK Government should crack down on cold homes.
‘One will be an international embarrassment, the other a sign of real climate leadership.
‘An ambitious home insulation programme funded by the Government would lower energy bills, cut planet-heating emissions and boost the UK’s energy security – it’s a triple win.
‘Boris Johnson must show that he hasn’t left his commitment behind at Glasgow Central station and he’s ready to roll up sleeves and lead by example on tackling the climate crisis.’
Liberty director Gracie Bradley said: ‘We should all be able to stand up for what we believe, but when the means to do so are continually narrowed – whether that be at the ballot box, in the courts or in the streets – people will take to more urgent routes.
‘While Insulate Britain knew that by breaching the injunction they risked jail, these sentences clearly are disproportionate and another threat to protest rights for all of us.
‘For years, injunctions have been used by the powerful to stifle dissent and restrict protest rights, while demonstrators have been demonised.
‘The impact has been stifling free expression, undermining the ability of all of us to stand up for what we believe in – particularly people from marginalised communities who are most cut off from the corridors of power.
‘Today’s sentences must be seen in the context of the expansive and oppressive powers in the Policing Bill, itself a grab for more power by a Government that despises scrutiny and accountability.
‘The right to protest protects all of us and is the cornerstone of a healthy democracy. We must not allow those in power to demonise demonstrators in a cynical attempt to silence us all.’
Duncan Smith, executive director of operations at National Highways, said: ‘Safety is our top priority and we welcome this outcome.
‘We respect people’s right to protest but do not condone the actions of anyone who puts their lives, and the lives of road users, at risk.
‘The judge’s decision will hopefully make people think again about carrying out reckless and dangerous protests such as these and endangering people’s lives.
‘The injunctions remain in place and we stand ready to do what is necessary to limit the impact of any protests on the strategic road network, and to keep drivers safe and on the move.’