Climate change protester jailed for five weeks after blocking motorway traffic

A climate change protester has been jailed for five weeks after blocking traffic on the M4.

Stephen Pritchard, 63, was sentenced at Inner London Crown Court for his part in an Insulate Britain demonstration in 2021.

He was convicted by a jury of causing a nuisance to the public when he, along with three others, stopped traffic at Junction 3 of the M4 on 1 October, 2021.

Insulate Britain campaigner Stephen Pritchard

The protest saw some of the defendants glue themselves to the tarmac on the road close to Heathrow Airport in west London, disrupting traffic flow in both directions for two hours affecting 10,000 vehicles.

Pritchard’s co-defendants – former probation officer Ruth Cook, 71, gardener Roman Paluch-Machnik, 29, and carpenter Oliver Rock, 42 – were each given six-week sentences suspended for 18 months on the proviso they do not offend again.

The three protestors were also ordered to complete 100 hours of community service.

Insulate Britain campaigners, (left to right) Stephen Pritchard, Roman Paluch-Machnik, Ruth Cook and Oliver Rock, outside Inner London Crown Court

Judge Silas Reid said Pritchard, a former parish councillor from Bath, was jailed because he told the court he would not stop taking part in disruptive protests as a matter of “conscience”.

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The judge told Pritchard: “It is not appropriate for me to suspend the inevitable sentence… you will serve up to half of your sentence in prison.”

The other three defendants said they were deterred from future protests by their experiences in court and prison.

Speaking to all four defendants, Judge Reid said: “None of you have shown any remorse for your actions and in fact wear them with pride.”

Insulate Britain said the protestors are the first to be convicted of causing a public nuisance – a common law offence which carries a maximum penalty of lifetime imprisonment.

Protesters from Insulate Britain blocked a roundabout at Junction 3 of the M4 near Heathrow Airport, west London on 1 October 2021

Pritchard, a former parish councillor from Bath, previously used his speech in court ahead of his sentencing to condemn an order made by Judge Silas Reid to not mention the climate crisis as their motivation as “amoral” and “irrational”.

The judge told the protestors to “concentrate as much as possible on motivation” in their speeches ahead of sentencing having ruled that they should not mention their climate motivations during the trial.

Pritchard told the court he turned to protest action after he had “exhausted every other means”, including writing to his MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, signing petitions, leading sustainability projects and planting tens of thousands of trees.

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He said he felt “overwhelming sadness” about Government “inaction” on climate change.

Pritchard told Judge Reid: “I think that your rulings were amoral; I believe also they were irrational given the situation that we’re in.

“People’s lives are being lost. The only possible way I could imagine stopping peaceful civil resistance in this context is for you to tell me that this country has stopped pumping greenhouse gases into the air.

“I’m well aware of what prison is like, having been to prison. It’s not a very nice place. But I feel like I’m already a prisoner of my conscience.”

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