British climate activists jailed for up to six months before trial | Environmental activism

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Climate activists arrested on suspicion of blocking roads or other offenses face up to six months in prison before being brought to trial.

Josh Smith, a 29-year-old stonemason from Manchester, has been in custody at HMP Peterborough for more than two months.

His court date is not set until February 1, meaning he will have been in jail for six months before being sentenced.

Smith, who is one of at least seven people in long-term prison terms awaiting trial, says the positive of his stance is that people seem more receptive to his message about the climate crisis.

Speaking from inside prison, he said: “The only good thing about my situation is that it seems to give an extra platform for my views. I spend most afternoons writing speeches and they have been read over all over the world – Italy, Sweden, Canada.”

Rebels in Prison Support, a group that helps jailed campaigners, says any sentence given to non-violent direct action protesters is likely to be shorter than their remand.

“It’s a total disgrace what’s happening. Many of these protesters are young and have had no contact with the police, never mind the legal system, before they became environmental activists,” said Alice Reid, a spokeswoman for the group.

Another 50 protesters were arrested and jailed last Friday, but many have been through court hearings in recent days and some have been released on bail.

Reid tells of protesters who are “lost in the prison system” as they are moved from one facility to another, apparently due to overcrowding.

Prisoners can struggle to make contact with the outside world for days, and Reid says trying to figure out where they’ve been taken can take a lot of time.

Louise Lancaster, a 56-year-old former teacher from Grantchester in Cambridgeshire, was arrested on the M25 and taken to a police station in Grays, Essex. Her husband had to send out a missing person to find her.

She said: “I was held for two days in Essex and then moved to Peterborough Prison. It is the meaning of the law that I should be allowed one phone call [to alert friends or family] and the police said they would do this, but they didn’t. Essex Police said this was due to human error.

Lancaster was quickly released from custody from Peterborough on the condition that she engages in no more “acts”, but her court appearance is not scheduled until October 2023. “If I had been remanded in custody I would be facing a year before trial, ” she said.

The delays are due, among other things, to the fact that the prison service is finding it difficult to cope high numbers and a legal system under serious funding and other limitations, as well as a huge backlog of cases as a result of Covid lockdowns. There are 59,000 outstanding crown court cases and one ongoing lawyer strike threatens to make this worse in the short term.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice insisted that environmentalists were treated equally under the law. “Decisions on bail applications are made by independent judges who ensure the public is protected. They have prioritized custody cases following the unprecedented impact of the pandemic,” they said.

The detainees have mainly been arrested for roadblocks organized by Isolate Britain or just stop oil.

There is a good chance that more protesters will soon join their ranks. A coalition of groups including JSO, Jeremy Corbyn’s Peace & Justice Project, Fuel Poverty Action and others plan to stage a major protest in Westminster on October 1.

Record UK summer temperatures and severe flooding in Pakistan has increased the urgency in the eyes of climate activists.

Smith admits that he is not an entirely innocent victim. He has been arrested 24 times in protests in less than a year and has refused to commit to giving up demonstrating.

But he is also resolute that he is doing the right thing. “A decade from now, when droughts are out of control, crop harvests are failing and Britain is experiencing food shortages, will I regret trying to do everything possible – even if it meant spending time in prison and getting a criminal record? No, ” he said.

“My dad is supportive and my mum understands. But she’s like any other mum – she’d rather it was someone else’s son doing this.”

Lancaster has also been arrested more than 20 times and faces charges she knows could lead to her losing her freedom.

“I have tried every other method to convince my local MP and government to go [the] the climate crisis seriously and I have failed so I am left with direct action,” she said.

“I’m lucky to be able to do this as I have a supportive partner who can look after my 17-year-old when he does his A-levels next year. If going to prison is what I can do to get community change to a tipping point, then I have to do it. This system is designed to scare us, and we will not be scared or stop.”

Sarah Lunnon, a spokesperson for the JSO, confirmed that a large number of climate protesters were willing to break the law. “How many doctors, scientists, plumbers and grandparents is the government willing to put in jail before they face the truth that we just need to stop oil and gas?” she said.

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