Interviews with Insulate Britain prisoners
From this week’s What’s Happening weekly news roundup
On Wednesday morning, nine climate protesters from Insulate Britain were sent to prison without having the opportunity to be heard by a jury of their peers. Indeed it was a different kind of peer altogether who committed them to a range of two to six months imprisonment for their radical but wholly peaceful disruption of major road infrastructure over the past couple of months.
The protesters want the government to put money into creating jobs insulating the homes of the poorest people in the UK which according to industry experts would have a major economic benefit and help the UK towards its climate pledges.
One source for this money could be to cut the insane levels of government subsidy currently pouring into the fossil fuel industry.
Disrupting traffic on the scale that Insulate Britain did is already a criminal offence and although recent case law has reinforced the need to acknowledge that peaceful protest is a mitigating factor in obstruction of the highway cases, the public nuisance caused by the recent campaign certainly comes under criminal law and could have been dealt with by the police and criminal justice system.
But as we reported in Real Media’s What’s Happening – Ep 5, police sources admitted that instructions from the very top have been hampering their ability to prevent disruption, and repeat “offenders” have been arrested more than a dozen times with no criminal sanctions.
Instead, the government instructed Highways England Limited to take out a private injunction and papers have been served on 130 protesters to date. Despite ongoing major disruption for weeks leading up to and during the COP climate meeting in Glasgow, the first nine were not summoned to the High Court until the conference was over, at which point all were imprisoned this week.
Dozens more of the 130 have already defied the injunction and will be summoned for committal in the coming weeks.
None will face a jury. Instead, their reasons for carrying on with their protests in contempt of the private injunction were heard by the President of the Queen’s Bench, Dame Victoria Sharp who comes from a family of multi-millionaires with connections to the fossil fuel industry. Her father, Baron Sharp of Grimsdyke’s early post-war career was in the then Ministry of Power and he was on committees for coal and petroleum at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation, later moving into petroleum-based polyester and nylon.
Dame Victoria’s twin brother Richard Sharp is now the Chairman of the BBC having enjoyed a lucrative career in investment banking at Goldman Sachs, a huge fossil-fuel enabler which has financed the industry to the tune of more than $100 billion in the past few years alone.
He has been a personal adviser to Prime Minister Johnson and also to Rishi Sunak who reportedly worked under him at Goldman Sachs. Richard Sharp has donated more than £400,000 to the Conservative Party, and was also a director at the free-market think tank, Centre for Policy Studies, part of the controversial Tufton Street cabal.
None of these family connections prove or even suggest any bias and as far as we have been able to discover, Dame Sharp has made her millions purely from her employment as a judge unlike her fossil-fuelled relations. Also siblings don’t always agree with each other – look at the Corbyns (Jeremy and Piers) for example.
It is surely precisely to avoid any appearance of potential bias that the criminal justice system is based on juries, so why has the government chosen this different path?
The actions of climate protesters are becoming more radical in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence that our governments are not doing remotely enough to avert climate and ecological catastrophe. Even more worrying for the government and its corporate puppet masters is any growing public support for protest.
Back in April, a jury acquitted protesters who had committed more than £25,000 damage at Shell HQ after hearing their evidence of the company’s complicity in climate destruction. A year earlier, another jury acquitted two protesters who had caused thousands of pounds worth of damage at King’s College as part of an ultimately successful divestment campaign.
So could it be that the government has chosen to push a private injunction, instructing police not to charge, instead handing over the fate of the accused to trusted establishment individuals, as a way to ensure ordinary people (picked at random for jury service) are not allowed to empathise with the protesters or hear the scientific evidence that motivate them.
If so, is this a strategy that will work? Historically, when governments crack down on peaceful protest, more people stand up.
Already, one of the #InsulateBritain9, Emma Smart, has begun a hunger strike in prison, and a range of protest movements have expressed solidarity.
A partner at civil rights and human rights solicitors Hodge Jones and Allen has publicly declared that “Insulate Britain are on the right side of history”.
Tomorrow there will be a mass act of civil resistance against the injunction, and protest groups are meeting outside the High Court (Royal Courts of Justice) at noon.
With more committals, many more likely to be imprisoned, and greater acts of defiance against an authoritarian regime on the wrong side of history, could this be a defining moment in the fight against fossil fuel and corporate greed?