Protesters spared prison sentence

The protesters at the Shotton open cast mine.
The protesters at the Shotton open cast mine.

Protesters who tried to prevent work at an open cast coal mine by chaining themselves to machinery have escaped an immediate prison sentence.

A group of activists, who called themselves Matt Ridley’s Conscience, turned up at the Shotton mine in Cramlington – a site belonging to landowner Viscount Matt Ridley – on October 26.

Some of the protesters chained themselves to a 500-tonne coal excavating machine, while others lay down at the entrance gate with their arms inside concrete tubes with banners that read ‘Keep it in the ground’ and ‘End Coal.’

At Bedlington Magistrates Court on Wednesday, Prosecutor Sarah O’Neill told the court how the blockade prevented trucks from entering or leaving the mine and shut down operations, at a cost of more than £100,000.

Ellen Gibson, 21, of Elm Grove, London; Philip MacDonald, 28, of Blackstock Road, Finsbury Park, London; Beth Louise Parkin, 29, of Dodgson House, Bidborough Street, London; Pekka Piirainen, 23, of Elm Grove, London; and Thomas Youngman, 22, of Hermitage Road, London, each pleaded guilty to blocking vehicular access with the intention of obstructing or disrupting activity at the site.

Laurence Watson, 27, of Blackstock Road, Finsbury Park, London; Guy Shrubsole, 30, of Bavent Road, London; and Lewis McNeill, 34, of no fixed address, pleaded guilty to chaining themselves to mining machinery to cause obstruction or disruption at the site.

Richard Brigden for the defence, said: “All the defendants are equally culpable. At no point were there any unsightly scenes, there was no aggression or swearing.

“They have a deep seated belief that they are right and that coal has led to climate change and that in the near future, people will suffer.

“They accept that what they did amounted to a criminal offence.

“These are all defendants who have always been involved in lawful, peaceful campaigning but they got to a point where they felt morally obligated to do something.

“These offences were born out of frustration.”

In sentencing them to a conditional discharge for 12 months, District Judge Bernard Begley said: “You were involved in this escapade in a variety of different ways, but this was a group action that was planned and had resource implications for the site.

“You have now lost your good characters.”

They were all given a three year restraining order preventing them from coming within 50m of a Banks site or office nationally, and were each ordered to pay £883.76 in compensation, a £15 victim surcharge and £150 in court fees.

A statement from Matt Ridley’s Conscience said: “Matt Ridley’s actions play upon our minds constantly. We cannot sleep for the guilt.

“Though we chose to declare ourselves guilty in court, we see this as no reflection of morality. We are proud of the actions we took on October 26 to stop the destruction caused by Shotton opencast coal mine.

“In shutting down Shotton mine in October, we acted upon our conscience; peacefully and with respect. Yet the state prosecutes us while Ridley and Banks Mining Group are judged ‘lawful’ in profiting from pollution.”

Roger Geffen, 49, of Southwark Bridge Road, London, pleaded not guilty to entering the open-cast mine with the intention of obstructing or disrupting mining activity, and will appear in court in March 2016.