“I wasn’t expecting it to be that long," said one. Why were the pair given "draconian" sentences, and how has JSO reacted?
Two climate protesters who scaled a major bridge in London have been sentenced to five years in prison for causing a public nuisance.
Just Stop Oil (JSO) activists Morgan Trowland, 40, and Marcus Decker, 34, climbed the Queen Elizabeth II (QEII) Bridge in October last year, forcing police to close the Dartford Crossing road below for 40 hours.
The road links the M25 between Essex and Kent, and is the only fixed crossing over the River Thames east of Greater London, so the closure led to serious gridlock.
Trowland was sentenced to three years in prison, in what is reportedly the longest sentence for a peaceful climate protest in British history. While Decker was handed two years and seven months.
“It is a long time,” Decker said in an interview with LBC Radio following the judgment on Friday.
“I wasn’t expecting it to be that long, but at the same time, the situation we’re in is so serious that action is so urgent. We have to act now, things need to happen. And I’d much rather be in prison for two years and seven months than knowing about all the children and the people dying around the world, and not doing anything about it.
Handing down the sentence, Judge Kollery KC commented that it was a strict punishment because he wanted to deter copycat actions.
“You have to be punished for the chaos you caused and to deter others from copying you,” he told the activists.
‘Draconian sentences’: How have climate campaigners responded?
Speaking outside the courtroom, JSO spokesperson Stephanie Golder said that the group “will not be deterred by these draconian sentences.
“Where they imprison one of us, 10 more will take their place. When they imprison 10 of us, 100 will stand to take their place.”
Other activists have also criticised the sentence. “This is absolutely devastating news,” an Extinction Rebellion (XR) spokesperson told the Guardian.
“These men took incredibly courageous action to raise the alarm on the greatest crisis of our time and they should be celebrated for their bravery, not thrown in prison and brushed under the carpet.”
Yesterday (24 April) Just Stop Oil began a new action of ‘slow marches’ around the streets of London. “It is an act of self respect, an act of solidarity, an act of love and necessity,” Golder said, urging more people to join in and oppose new oil and gas projects.
XR is also stepping up its actions following the end of the peaceful ‘Big One’ protest from 21 to 24 April.
Will the Dartford Bridge protesters be appealing the sentence?
The protesters were originally due to be sentenced at Basildon Crown Court on 13 April, having been found unanimously guilty. But a barrister was not available to represent Trowland, who had represented himself during the trial but had requested a barrister afterwards.
Jolyon Maugham, director of the Good Law Project, tweeted that the organisation is “in contact” with the pair, having reached out to “offer (should they want it) help with appealing against their sentences.”
He described them as "prisoners of conscience and victims of a morally abject sentencing decision."
Euronews Green understands that an attempt to appeal is likely, particularly since the sentence was meant to act as a deterrent.
Who are Just Stop Oil and what do they want?
Just Stop Oil was created to put pressure on the UK government to stop new and existing fossil fuel deals. It is a coalition of different groups inspired by organisers from Insulate Britain and Extinction Rebellion.
Since the campaign began on 1 April 2022, more than 2,000 people have been arrested and 138 have spent time in prison, the group says. There are currently two Just Stop Oil and five Insulate Britain activists serving time in prison for actions taken with the campaigns.
Morgan Trowland and Marcus Decker have both been held on remand since the incident on 17 October, where they used ropes and climbing equipment to scale the QEII Bridge across the Thames.
The jury heard from people who had missed important events as a result.
“It’s a terrible thing to climb up a bridge, hold up all these people - some people missed funerals - and I feel terrible about that, causing people pain, real pain,” Decker told LBC. “I really hope that we can find ways to have a similar impact, without that pain, but I’m certainly at a loss how to…”
Decker has previously spoken to Euronews Green about the joy of receiving postcards in prison, and how he stays connected to nature even in confinement.