Brighton campaigner cleared over M25 Insulate Britain charges
A Brighton environmental campaigner has been found not guilty of blocking a highway during an Insulate Britain protest because prosecutors could not prove anyone had been seriously inconvenienced.
Venetia Carter, who was briefly jailed for spraying Insulate Britain on Crawley Magistrates Court at an earlier hearing, was one of four protesters cleared by district judge Amanda Kelly yesterday.
Police arrested 38 activists from the group Insulate Britain who targeted junctions 9 and 10 of Britain’s busiest motorway at 7.57am on September 21 2021 for around 13 minutes.
However Carter, of Sutherland Road, Dr Diana Warner, Stephen Gower and Susan Hagley have been found not guilty of wilful obstruction of the highway contrary to 137 of the Highways Act 1980.
They had argued their actions were legitimate under Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is their right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.
Handing down her verdict at Horsham Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday, Ms Kelly said: “This was a relatively short protest in respect of an issue of considerable importance by four individuals who believed with enormous sincerity in the need to exercise their Article 10 and 11 rights at that particular time and date and at that particular moment in history.
“On the very particular facts of this case and in respect of this particular protest, I find that the prosecution has failed to make me sure that a criminal conviction would be proportionate.
“Although I find that the protest caused significant disruption to a large number of people, I have not been provided with evidence of any grave consequences being caused to any individual person or business over and above the sort of inconvenience that is routinely caused by delays on the M25, such as those caused by accidents or other obstructions entering the road.
“However, I make it clear that my decision in this case is confined to the particular facts of the protest that took place on September 21 2021 and cannot in any way be regarded as impacting upon the legality of any other similar action.
“For the reasons given, I find the defendants not guilty.”
The court heard the defendants stepped onto the road at different times with Dr Warner being among the first group, Mr Gower in the second group and Ms Carter and Ms Hagley third.
Ms Carter and Ms Hagley glued themselves to the carriageway in an attempt to make it harder for police officers to move them, but it had not fully set.
All four were physically removed after they were on the road for around 13 minutes.
District Judge Kelly said the location was targeted because it would have the most “significant impact” and affect “a large number of people”.
She went on: “I have not been provided with evidence of the impact of the delay on any individual motorists. Although the police put out a request on social media for anyone to contact them if they had been severely impacted by the protest, I was told that nobody had responded.
“I have also not heard any evidence about any emergency vehicles being hindered in their journeys. Although the police received phone calls from members of the public reporting the presence of protestors on the road, the police did not make further enquiries with these individuals after the protest was over.
“Nevertheless, I take judicial notice of the fact that a large number of ordinary members of the public would have been significantly inconvenienced by the delay to the journey and in some cases caused real discomfort or even distress at missing important appointments or being unable to take a comfort break.”
The district judge said a conviction would “likely” deter others from acting in a similar manner in the future.
Ms Hagley, 67, from Ipswich, said: “The demands of Insulate Britain have never been more important or relevant at this time of the cost of living crisis and rising fuel poverty.
“It’s scandalous that in the sixth richest nation in the world thousands die each year from fuel poverty and the climate crisis is affecting millions of people around the world. None of us can be insulated from climate collapse.
“I feel vindicated and relieved to have been acquitted.”
Ms Carter said: “I’m delighted Judge Kelly recognised that it would not be right to convict us for our action on the M25 that day.
“I only wish the government had listened to our demands to get homes insulated. People are now beginning to wake up to why insulation makes sense. Time for the government to wake up too.”
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An interesting decision in this case. Of course this does not set a Judicial Precedent, the starting point for those is the High Court.
The prosecution can make an application to the High Court as a way of appealing this decision, called ‘ by way of case stated’. However, as this is the decision of a proper, legally qualified District Judge, not the unpaid, untrained volunteers in the Magistrates Court, I think any prosecution appeal is unlikely.
Although I’m sure the protesters are very sincere in their convictions, I ask why they do not talk to the government?
Surely, this is the way forward. Have they contacted anyone in government? Or did they just start this somewhat reckless campaign of civil disobedience?