Two Bury St Edmunds Extinction Rebellion protestors convicted over newspaper printer blockade which cost firm £1 million
Two Suffolk protestors who were part of a blockade which cost a print firm £1 million have been given conditional discharges after being convicted.
Charlotte Kirin, 52, of Peckham Street, and Hazel Stenson, 57, Summer Road, in Bury St Edmunds, were found guilty at St Albans Magistrates' Court of obstructing the highway alongside Laura Frandsen, 31, of Waller Road, London; Caspar Hughes, 49, of Commercial Road, Exeter; Amir Jones, 40, Fletcher Street, London and Elise Yarde, 33, Gainsford Road, London.
They were part of an Extinction Rebellion demonstration at the Rupert Murdoch-owned Newsprinters site at Broxbourne, during the night of September 4 to 5 last year, which stopped the distribution of three and a half million copies of national newspapers including The Sun, Mail, Telegraph and Times.
About 100 workers were unable to leave the plant in their cars and the business lost an estimated £1 million during the blockade, which lasted from around 10pm to noon.
Prosecutor Nigel Ogbourne said Extinction Rebellion was protesting about News International's attitude to climate change and the six protestors were in, on and under two hired Citroen vans which blocked the road.
During a trial, which began on May 17, the defence argued that Home Secretary Priti Patel was interfering in the way Hertfordshire police were dealing with the demonstration, by demanding their early removal.
The court heard the Home Secretary had been in contact with Hertfordshire Chief Constable Charlie Hall during the night.
But today District Judge Sally Fudge said that the Gold and Silver Police Commanders were clear in their evidence that they denied feeling any political pressure or need to change their decisions.
She said an attempt by the Home Office 'to seek an expedited resolution' was considered, but rebutted.
The judge said: “I am satisfied that the police maintained their operational independence, as they must do.”
The defendants told the judge they wanted to disrupt the distribution of the newspapers to highlight the right wing media’s failure to report the seriousness of the climate crisis.
They and their lawyers argued they had the right of freedom of expression and assembly under Articles 10 and 11 of the Human Rights Act.
But the judge found the six defendants guilty of obstructing the highway.
District Judge Fudge said: “It is clear that the protest on September 4 and 5, 2020 was well organised, and deliberately targeted at Newsprinters with the intention of preventing the distribution of some of the newspapers printed there.
“The impact of the protest was on any view significant, in terms of the business’ ability to function properly that night, and in financial terms as to the amount lost as a result of that impairment.
“Whether the protestors liked it or not, Newsprinters was a legal entity seeking to carry on its lawful business, and was prevented from doing so by the protest.
"The rights of this business’ owner must be considered in the same way as any other business owner’s rights.
"The level of disruption caused by the protest was high, and the obstruction of the highway went on for a very long time.”
The judge said the penalties for the offence were either an absolute or conditional discharge or a maximum fine of £1,000.
She told the defendants: “This was a peaceful protest, there was no suggestion of damage, no abuse or obstruction of officers.
"You all spoke in your defence with passion and clarity of thought.”
She said she convicted them because the protest went too far.
Ms Frandsen, who had two previous similar convictions, was fined £150 with £150 prosecution costs and a £34 court surcharge.
The other five defendants were given a 12 month conditional discharge, with £150 prosecution costs and a £22 court surcharge.
In total, 51 people have been charged with obstruction of the highway.
Other trials are due to follow.
Six people were convicted of the same charge at an earlier hearing and received similar sentences.