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Three men jailed for a fracking site protest have been freed after judges ruled their sentences were “excessive”.
Simon Blevins, 26, Richard Roberts, 36, and Rich Loizou, 31, became the first UK anti-fracking protesters to be sent to prison, after climbing on lorries at Cuadrilla’s site in Lancashire.
Court of Appeal judges ruled they should be released from jail and instead imposed conditional discharges.
The judgement was met by applause and singing from supporters in the court.
Blevins, from Sheffield, Loizou, from Devon, and Roberts, of London, were convicted of public nuisance at Preston Crown Court in September.
The three defendants had climbed on lorries outside the fracking site in Preston New Road in July 2017, in a demonstration which lasted close to 100 hours.
Blevins and Roberts were jailed for 16 months each and Loizou received a 15-month custodial term.
The Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett said an “immediate custodial sentence in the case of these appellants was manifestly excessive”.
“In our judgment, the appropriate sentence which should have been imposed… was a community order with a significant requirement of unpaid work,” he said.
“But these appellants have been in prison for six weeks.
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Media captionAbout 200 people marched through Preston in support of the men on 6 October
“As a result, and only for that reason, we have concluded that the appropriate sentence now is a conditional discharge for two years.”
The judge did not change the sentence of Julian Brock, 47, from Torquay, who received a 12-month suspended term for his part in the protest after admitting public nuisance.
He added the full reasons for the ruling would be published at a later date.
Speaking after the hearing, Loizou’s father Platon said the experience would “not change Rich’s mind”, adding: “Richie and the rest of the boys… will continue to do this and continue to tell the whole world about what we are doing to ourselves.”
Roberts’s partner Michelle Easton said the families would catch the next train to Preston to “go and pick our boys up”.
“It is still a conviction but it is within the rights that we have in this country – we don’t lock up protesters who are peaceful,” she said.
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The men’s appeal was supported by human rights organisation Liberty and environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth.
Katie de Kauwe, the environmental group’s lawyer, said the sentences had been “disproportionate” and Liberty’s Emma Norton called the ruling a “victory for human rights and civil liberties”.
Fracking for shale gas began at the Preston New Road site on Monday.
It is the first time hydraulic fracking has taken place in the UK since it was linked with earthquakes in Blackpool in 2011.
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