Six Extinction Rebellion protesters on trial for blockading the printing press of some of the UK’s major newspapers have been found guilty.
The activists appeared at St Albans Magistrates’ Court on Friday accused of obstructing the highway outside Newsprinters printing works in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, on September 4, 2020.
Judge Sally Fudge convicted the defendants, saying that while the demonstration was "peaceful" it had a significant impact on the ability of businesses to function and caused newspapers to lose an estimated £1 million.
The court heard around 50 XR members used vehicles and bamboo structures, used as lock-ons, to deny access to or from the Broxbourne site.
The Newsprinters presses publish the Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corp’s titles including the Sun, Times, Sun On Sunday and Sunday Times, as well as the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, the Daily Mail and Mail On Sunday, and the London Evening Standard.
The Crown Prosecution Service decided to try six defendants at a time.
This is the second trial, and it involved defendants Caspar Hughes, 49, of Exeter; Elise Yarde, 32, of Walthamstow; Amir Jones, 39, of London; Laura Frandsen, 30, of London; Charlotte Kirin, 51, of Bury St Edmunds; and Hazel Stenson, 56, of Bury St Edmunds.
A verdict was expected last month but Ms Fudge agreed to postpone the trial to await the outcome of a Supreme Court judgment, which on June 25 overturned the convictions of four protesters who had locked themselves together outside an arms fair in 2017.
The four demonstrators were found to have been exercising their rights to free speech and assembly and had a lawful excuse.
Judge Fudge concluded that the police had acted proportionately in arresting the protesters, adding: "The level of disruption caused by the protest was high, and the obstruction of the highway went on for a very long time.
"It is accepted that the impact of their protest would have been lessened had they been located to the side of the highway, such that the deliveries could continue to take place as normal, but the view of Superintendent Wells, who made the decision to arrest, was that by the time he arrived, the protest had been ongoing for around four-and-a-half hours.
"In my view the protestors had, up until the point of arrest, been able to exercise their article 10 and 11 rights with little, if any, interference from the state, and that part of the protest had already had some impact on Newsprinters’ ability to conduct its business in the usual way.
The judge said this led to a "loss of business revenue valued at over £1 million", adding: "It had an impact akin to a ripple-effect, with the distributors of the newspapers at the heart who bore the brunt of the disruption, through to the individual consumer at the outside who could not buy their preferred newspaper that day experiencing some inconvenience."
During the trial, the court had heard how Home Secretary Priti Patel had made multiple calls to commanding officers about the protest and requested to "expedite" their removal.
Raj Chada, defending, said an independent review of the incident, commissioned by Hertfordshire Constabulary, had found officers had been placed under "significant political pressure".
However, Judge Fudge said she found police had "maintained their operational independence" and that Ms Patel’s conversations with senior officers had not influenced decisions taken on the ground.