One of the nine Insulate Britain protesters appearing at the High Court today for breaking an injunction has boasted that he would block a motorway ‘at the earliest opportunity’ if he was not ‘put in prison’ immediately.
Ben Taylor, 27, is among the eco zealots who have blocked roads on 19 days since September 13, causing misery for motorists stuck on motorways and junctions around London, Manchester, Birmingham and Dover.
Another of the nine protesters from the Extinction Rebellion offshoot appearing at the court in London was Oliver Roc, 41, who admitted today that he was ‘c***ping’ himself and felt like crying at the prospect of jail.
At least 161 activists have been involved and there have been at least 860 arrests. Now, nine have been summoned for contempt of court and face up to two years in prison, unlimited fines and seizure of assets if found guilty.
And Mr Taylor told the High Court that if he is ‘not put in prison’ today, 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 said ‘whatever sentence or sanction’ he was given ‘will be counter-productive and will only serve to fuel the campaign of Insulate Britain’, adding: ‘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.’
The nine appearing in a committal hearing today with Mr Taylor and Mr Roc were Ben Buse, 36; Ana Heyatawin, 58; Louis McKenchnie, 20; Roman Paluch, 28; Emma Smart, 44; Tim Speers, 36; and James Thomas, 47.
Meanwhile an emotional Mr Roc told LBC radio this morning: ‘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.’
Later, the High Court fell silent after Mr Roc invited those in Court 4 to take 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. 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.
‘This crisis is already causing suffering. We have all the information we need about this crisis but I think it is important to connect with the emotional reality of what this means for our future.’
Mr Roc added he did ‘everything he could’ to minimise disruption during motorway protests.
The nine had been due to hold a press conference in a Pret A Manger café across the road before the hearing, but Pret then told them they could not do so because the venue was not licensed to hold such kind of events.
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 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.
The nine Insulate Britain protesters appearing at the High Court today are (from left): Oliver Roc, 41; Roman Paluch, 28; Tim Speers, 36; Emma Smart, 44; Louis McKenchnie, 20;James Thomas, 47; Ana Heyatawin, 58; Ben Taylor, 27; and Ben Buse, 36
Oliver Roc (left, at court today) is pictured during the group’s most recent protest at Parliament Square on November 4 (right)
The nine Insulate Britain protesters hold two banners before their appearance at the High Court in London this morning
The High Court has so far issued five injunctions to prevent protesters from blocking roads.
They include four injunctions granted to National Highways, banning demonstrations on the M25, around the Port of Dover and on major roads around London, and one to Transport for London (TfL).
What is contempt of court and for how long could the protesters be jailed?
‘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 could be found in contempt of court and face a maximum penalty of two years in prison or an unlimited fine.
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 are 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 are 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.
TfL was granted a civil banning order aimed at preventing protesters from obstructing traffic on some of the capital’s busiest roads.
At the High Court today, Ben Taylor, a campaigner from Insulate Britain, said if he is ‘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’.
Mr 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.’
Another activist said she has been ‘traumatised’ by the Government’s attitude to climate change.
Ms Heyatawin said she ‘does not accept the morality of the injunction’ and said ‘it is meaningless in the context of climate collapse’. She 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.’
Fellow campaigner Ms Smart told the court she is 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.
‘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.’
Ms 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.’
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
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.’
And Mr Paluch 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’.
Lawyers representing National Highways said that nine supporters of the group admit the breaches – although two of them have asked the agency to withdraw one allegation relating to a ban on refusing to leave the road when asked by police or other officials.
Myriam Stacey QC said the injunction banning protest activity on the M25 motorway was granted by a High Court judge on September 21.
She said a National Highways official described their protests, which began on September 13 and have continued for around nine weeks so far, as ‘unprecedented and sustained’.
The nine are all facing a possible jail term for their part in a blockade of the M25 on October 8. Dr Buse is represented by lawyers while the others are representing themselves.
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
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
Ms Stacey said the official described the protesters as ‘peaceful and compliant’, and said they are ‘loosely affiliated’ to Extinction Rebellion.
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
She also said they had stated they would continue with their protests and had the capacity to carry out protest activity every 48 hours.
Ms Stacey told the court the group emailed the agency on September 19 and stated activists would be on the M25 the following day.
They also said the protests would continue ‘unless the Government makes a meaningful statement that they will start the process of decarbonising homes in Britain’.
Ms Stacey said Insulate Britain began its protest on October 8 at junction 25 of the M25 at around 8.30am. She said protesters blocked two lanes and the last two were removed by police shortly before 10am after they had glued themselves to the floor.
She said a series of press releases were sent by Insulate Britain in the days after the injunction was made.
She said: ‘On the 27th of September, a press release was sent out that made reference to the injunction and said those involved may be found in contempt of court and could be sent to prison, be fined or have their assets seized.
‘On the 30th September, a press release was sent saying they had returned to the M25 for the third day that week and it said, ‘We are raising the tempo this week. There has been no meaningful response from the Government to our demands’.’
She said a further release sent on October 13 said: ‘Approximately 40 people have blocked the M25 at junction 31, near to the Dartford Crossing, demanding the Prime Minister gets on with the job.’
In another released a day later on October 14, Ms Stacey QC said a spokesman said: ‘We would like to take the opportunity to acknowledge the disruption caused over the last five weeks. We wouldn’t undertake these acts in normal situations.’
She added this came after ‘an outcry from the public’.
Ms Stacey told the court that Insulate Britain operate under a policy that they let emergency vehicles pass protests sites.
She said: ‘If there is an emergency vehicle then they will move out of the way for it. That is their policy. But if there is a tailback that the emergency vehicle is stuck behind, that doesn’t help.’
The Government plans to introduce new measures to clamp down on protests.
These include allowing the police to stop and search people where there is a reasonable suspicion they are carrying items intended to cause disturbance by ‘locking-on’ using glue or other means.
The hearing, before Dame Victoria Sharp and Mr Justice Chamberlain, continues.
Ahead of the hearing, another of the nine protesters – Mr McKechnie – said yesterday: ‘If the government chooses to imprison us, so be it, this will show their cowardice.
‘They would rather lock up pensioners than insulate their homes.
‘They would rather lock up teachers than create thousands of proper jobs. I face the prospect of being sentenced to prison on my 21st birthday.
‘This government would rather lock up young people than take steps to reduce emissions.
‘They will lock us up and leave thousands to die of cold this winter, and millions to face climate chaos in the coming decades.’
The group has demanded that Boris Johnson fast-tracks plans to insulate Britain’s homes to cut carbon emissions.
It wants this done by the end of the decade, with a ‘legally binding’ national plan published within four months.
And Mr Thomas said: ‘I’m scared about potentially going to prison. But I’m more scared of this government’s complacency and lies about the climate.
‘They are kicking the can down the road. We are running out of road.’
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 Paulch, Ben Taylor, Ana Heyatawin, David, Oliver Roc, Tracey Mallaghan and Tim Speers
A truck carrying insulation was blocked by Insulate Britain protesters at Parliament Square in Westminster on November 4
In a statement issued yesterday, the group condemned the ‘failure’ of the Cop26 climate conference and compared itself to the Suffragettes and Martin Luther King Jr.
A spokesman said: ‘As will become clear after the failure that was COP26, our government has no intention of taking the necessary action to protect its people. It has failed at its most basic of duties to protect the people.
‘When governments endanger their citizens, the moral and just thing to do is to highlight this injustice by breaking the law, this is what the suffragettes and Martin Luther King did. This is what we are calling on everyone to do.
‘Don’t be a bystander, come and join us and we will change the tide of history. What more meaningful thing can you do with your lives, at this time when everyone and everything you love is in mortal danger?’