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Bury St Edmunds Extinction Rebellion protester Hazel Stenson speaks of disappointment at 'inevitable' guilty verdict after print works blockade




A Bury St Edmunds protester who has been sentenced for her involvement in an Extinction Rebellion action has spoken about her climate crisis fears.

Hazel Stenson, 57, of Summer Road, was one of six protesters found guilty at St Alban’s Magistrates’ Court of obstructing the highway during a blockade which cost a print firm £1 million.

Charlotte Kirin, 52, of Peckham Street, Bury, 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, were also convicted on Friday.

Hazel Stenson was found guilty of obstructing the highway at St Alban’s Magistrates’ Court
Hazel Stenson was found guilty of obstructing the highway at St Alban’s Magistrates’ Court

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.

Nigel Ogbourne, prosecuting, 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.

Hazel Stenson, far left, at an Extinction Rebellion protest outside West Suffolk House
Hazel Stenson, far left, at an Extinction Rebellion protest outside West Suffolk House

Ms Stenson said this week: “The press hold the key – we can do all the actions in the world but if the press does not report them or their message, without prejudice, then we are just talking to each other.

“I’d rather not be lying all night under a lorry on a cold Tarmac road, I’d rather be tucked up with my family while the media does its job.”

Ms Stenson said News International owner Rupert Murdoch was heavily invested in oil and gas and was ‘protecting his business interested while putting everyone at risk to do so’.

“The media companies he owns are not reporting on the severity of things. Meanwhile, they seek to divide us using race and politics at a time when unity is desperately needed. That is why I was there (at the blockade) and that is the reason for the action,” said Ms Stenson.

“I feel a sense of disappointment in the sadly inevitable verdict, alongside a sense of achievement in having brought the issue to the attention of people. So it is a double-edged sword,” she said.

Hazel Stenson. Picture by Mark Westley
Hazel Stenson. Picture by Mark Westley

“As a group, our career prospects will suffer. We accept the consequences of our decisions and actions. I hope the judge can accept the potential consequences of hers. History will be the true judge.

“Personally, I am terrified about how the future of my children is going to be affected by the climate crisis. It keeps me awake at night and scares me every single day.”

“For me, personally, I could cry every day for my daughter and stepson. She is 22 and he is 10. They should be planning their brightest futures, but I just see them unable to get food and with society breaking down. As a parent, I have to do everything I can for them and their generation.”

During the trial, which began on May 17, the defence argued Home Secretary Priti Patel was interfering in the way Hertfordshire Police was 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.

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. - Judge Fudge

But on Friday District Judge Sally Fudge said police commanders were clear in their evidence that they denied feeling any political pressure or need to change decisions.

She said an attempt by the Home Office ‘to seek an expedited resolution’ was considered, but rebutted.

The judge said: “I am satisfied 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 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.

Hazel Stenson and Ernie Broom set up a volunteer network on the Howard Estate when coronavirus hit last March. Picture by Mark Westley
Hazel Stenson and Ernie Broom set up a volunteer network on the Howard Estate when coronavirus hit last March. Picture by Mark Westley

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 each given a 12-month conditional discharge with £150 prosecution costs and £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.

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