Climate change protester who blocked traffic on the M4 is jailed

Climate change protester who blocked traffic on the M4 as part of Insulate Britain campaign is jailed for five weeks

A climate change protester who blocked traffic on the M4 as part of the Insulate Britain campaign has been jailed for five weeks. 

Stephen Pritchard, from Bath, was put behind bars today at Inner London Crown Court after being found guilty of obstructing the motorway on October 1, 2021.

The 63-year-old, along with former probation officer Ruth Cook, 71, gardener Roman Paluch-Machnik, 29, and carpenter Oliver Rock, 42, stopped traffic at Junction 3 of the motorway in Hounslow, West London. 

Pritchard, who is a Buddhist and a former parish councillor, had railed against Judge Silas Reid in a previous hearing after the defendants were ordered not to mention their climate-related motivations to the jury during their trial.

Judge Reid said Pritchard was being jailed because he previously told the court that he would not stop taking part in disruptive action as a matter of ‘conscience’. 

Insulate Britain activist Stephen Pritchard outside Inner London Crown Court on Friday, March 10

Insulate Britain protesters blocked Junction 3 of the M4 in west London on October 1, 2021, for hours

His co-defendants were each given six-week sentences suspended for 18 months on the proviso they do not offend again. The three were also ordered to serve 100 hours’ community service.

The other three defendants previously said they had been deterred from future disruptive protest action by experiences in court and prison.

Judge Reid told Pritchard: ‘It is not appropriate for me to suspend the inevitable sentence… you will serve up to half of your sentence in prison.’

Speaking to all four defendants, he said: ‘None of you have shown any remorse for your actions and in fact wear them with pride.’

The 2021 protest saw some of the defendants glue themselves to the tarmac on the M4 close to Heathrow Airport in west London, disrupting traffic flow in both directions for around two hours.

It was part of wave of protests by the climate group which caused chaos on the roads of Britain as they called on the Government to increase funding for insulation in homes across the country.

Judge Reid had ruled that they should not mention their climate motivations during their trial, but asked them to ‘concentrate as much as possible on motivation’ in their speeches ahead of sentencing.

He told them: ‘Blocking the road in the way you did, if it was done for no reason, is a serious matter and would result in a prison sentence.’

After their conviction, 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.

He said he felt ‘overwhelming sadness’ about Government ‘inaction’ on climate change.

Addressing Judge Reid, Pritchard said: ‘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.’

Rock said he has spent two months in prison over similar protests, and felt ‘traumatised’ by it, adding that he was worried he would ‘have a complete mental breakdown’ if he were jailed again.

He said there were ‘three prison guards to around 80 prisoners’ and many took ‘bucketloads of drugs to control their anxiety’.

Rock, from Dulwich, south London, said he felt compelled to take part in the 2021 protest because he believes his young nephew and niece ‘don’t have a decent future’ due to climate change.

‘I feel really angry,’ he said. ‘I think we are headed to a very dark place. I don’t think we are going to turn this ship around in time.

‘I see the reactions from politicians, and they don’t know what to do and they just want everyone to be quiet.

‘I don’t know what to do. I am desperate to change the future we are facing.’

Rock said his motivations were ‘moral and spiritual’, and referred to the court case as ‘fiddling’ with paperwork ‘while the world is burning’.

Cook, who founded a training company after leaving the Probation Service, said she had spent decades ‘upholding the law’ but resorted to disruptive protests so she could ‘look her grandchildren in the eye’.

Speaking about Judge Reid’s imposition of limits to their defence, the grandmother from Frome, Somerset, gestured to the jury bench and said: ‘I’m really aware of those empty seats.

‘I am going to say things now that I wish they would have been able to hear, so that they weren’t discussing traffic data and listening to boring statistics about traffic, but knew why we did what we did.’

Cook, who is also a Quaker, said her work delivering aid in Africa on behalf of Oxfam and the Refugee Council and seeing climate refugees in the continent ‘changed me fundamentally’.

‘I saw the impact that the climate emergency was having on their lives,’ she said.

Cook said going through the court system had been ‘far more stressful than sitting on a motorway’ and she did not intend to take part in any further law-breaking protests.

The defendants also mentioned the impact the campaign had had on their friend Xavier Gonzalez-Trimmer, who killed himself after spending time in prison over an Insulate Britain protest.

Pritchard said: ‘He was a brave, gentle and caring human being who could see the future we were facing and was desperate to do something about it, and now he’s dead.’

Paluch-Machnik used his speech to highlight the impact of climate change, adding: ‘This isnt a belief system of mine, this is a measurable process.’

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