Insulate Britain: First Prison Sentences for Roadblock Protesters

By Holly Nesbitt

Nine members of the climate activism group ‘Insulate Britain’ have been convicted of contempt of court for breaching an order which prevented them from protesting on the M25. Ana Heyatawin, 58, and Louis McKechnie, 20, received a three-month sentence, while Emma Smart, 44 (who is now reportedly on hunger strike), Ben Buse, 36, Roman Paluch-Machnik, 28, Oliver Rock, 41, Tim Speers, 36, and James Thomas, 47, were handed a four-month sentence for taking part in a blockade on the M25 on October 8.

Another member, Ben Taylor told the court that he would “block the highway at the earliest opportunity” and continue to do so “until the government makes a meaningful statement”. Taylor has received a six-month prison sentence. It seems these individuals will not be the last to be handed such sentences, as the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told the House of Commons that “475 injections have been served to protestors at their homes for contempt of court” in relation to Insulate Britain Protests so far.

Insulate Britain occupied motorways and blocked traffic around the UK to send their message to the Government and the nation.

On 21st November, a further 124 climate activists were arrested after a central London bridge was blockaded by a sit-down protest for several hours, in support of those who had been jailed, according to the BBC. Campaigners allegedly told the crowd that those jailed were “political prisoners” who will not be the last to be locked up for their convictions about climate change.

In recent months Insulate Britain have gained attention from the press and social media for blocking roads in England, particularly the M25 (which surrounds Greater London) and the M1 (which connects London to much of the North of England). Videos have merged across social media of enraged motorists, and even a paramedic, dragging them from their roadblocks. According to a YouGov survey conducted in October, only 18% of the public support these actions, while 72% oppose them.

The group are demanding that the UK government:

– Fully Fund and take responsibility for the insulation of all social housing in Britain by 2025.

– Produce within four months a legally binding national plan to fund and take responsibility for the full insulation retrofit, with no external costs, of all homes in Britain by 2023.

The demands of the UK Government issued by Insulate Britain

These demands come with the twin aim of lowering energy bills for the poorest people, while also reducing carbon emissions.

Meanwhile, Home Secretary Priti Patel, in her Conservative Party Conference Speech on October 5th, unveiled that as part of the Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Bill (which – at the time of writing – is in the Committee stage in the Lords), plans to increase maximum sentences for disruption of a motorway, as well as new criminal offences for interfering with critical national infrastructures. While Insulate Britain’s methods have won them no favours with the general public or government– they have a point. As Sean O’Grady outlined in the Independent – when climate protesters assess the prospects of anything useful coming out of COP26 they are rightly pessimistic. Governments around the world appear to be all words, no action.

Published by The Gown Queen's University Belfast

The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.

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