Two Just Stop Oil protesters who scaled a bridge on the Dartford Crossing have had their Court of Appeal bids to have their sentences shortened thrown out.
Morgan Trowland, 40, and Marcus Decker, 34, were jailed after they used ropes and other climbing equipment to scale the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, causing gridlock when police closed it to traffic last October.
Dismissing the protesters’ appeals on Monday, Lady Justice Carr said: ‘This was very serious offending by repeat protest offenders who were trespassers, and on bail, at the time – whilst the protest was non-violent as such, it had extreme consequences for many, many members of the public.
‘Mr Trowland stated in his evidence that ‘the warning message is dependent on disruption’.
‘The grave consequences that we have described were not only inevitable, as the protesters would have known, they were precisely what the protesters intended and set out to achieve.’
Lady Justice Carr, sitting with Mrs Justice Cutts and Mrs Justice Thornton, said the court acknowledged the ‘long and honourable tradition of civil disobedience on conscientious grounds’ and that the sentences handed to Trower and Decker went ‘well beyond previous sentences imposed for this type of offending’.
Just Stop Oil activist Marcus Decker, 34, was jailed for two years and seven months after dangling over the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge
Fellow protester Morgan Trowland, 40, was jailed three years for his part in the stunt
However, she said the jail terms reflected ‘Parliament’s will’ in new laws enacted under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act last year, which introduced a new ‘fault-based public nuisance offence for what obviously will include non-violent protest behaviour, with a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment’.
She also said the sentences met the ‘legitimate’ aim of deterring others from such offending.
The judge added: ‘The sentences should not be seen as having a ‘chilling effect’ on the right to peaceful protest or to assembly more generally – deterrence and ‘chilling effect’ are not the same.
‘This protest was of a wholly different nature and scale to the many non-violent protests of conscientious activists up and down the country exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly on a daily basis.’
At a hearing in London last week, the protesters’ lawyers made a bid to challenge the ‘extraordinary length’ of Trowland’s three-year sentence and Decker’s jail term of two years and seven months.
Daniel Friedman KC, representing the activists, said in written arguments their jail terms were ‘the longest ever handed down in a case of non-violent protest in this country in modern times’.
The pair are appealing the sentences over the incident, which caused long traffic queues on the M25 into Kent and Essex
A trial at Basildon Crown Court was previously told the bridge was shut from 4am on October 17 until 9pm the next day, sparking traffic jams as motorists were forced to use tunnels instead.
In April, a jury unanimously found Trowland and Decker guilty of causing a public nuisance.
Just Stop Oil previously said Judge Shane Collery KC, sentencing, was ‘trying to set a precedent’ and ‘deter people’.
The environmental campaign group said Decker, a German citizen who it said has leave to remain in the UK, faces deportation after serving his sentence.
On Wednesday, Mr Friedman said the protesters have spent nine months locked up, having been in custody since their arrest last October.
The barrister said this amounts to the ‘longest sentence ever served in living memory’ for someone convicted over a ‘peaceful protest’.
He described their ‘manifestly excessive’ sentences as ‘the longest by a very long way for deliberate obstruction of the highway or infrastructure’.
Mr Friedman said ‘particular caution’ was needed over sentencing, including in the context of ‘non-violent acts of civil disobedience, even when seriously disruptive of others’.
The eco-activists argued during the trial that it was a peaceful protest but were found guilty of causing a public nuisance (Pictured: Decker)
The pair appeared on videos links from jail to appeal their sentences at the High Court (Pictured: Trowland)
In written arguments, Mr Friedman said the sentencing judge handed down jail terms that were a ‘disproportionate interference’ with the activists’ rights to free speech and protest.
He said: ‘The extent of the deterrent element of the offence was unduly severe, unreasonable, and otherwise likely to have a ‘chilling effect’ on all protest rather than this type of protest.’
Mr Friedman also said the sentencing judge was ‘unduly harsh’ in his approach to the two protesters’ previous convictions and ‘prospect of rehabilitation’.
Trowland has six previous convictions relating to protests, while Decker has one, with lawyers for the pair previously saying they would not take part in further disruptive protest.
Tom Little KC, for the Crown Prosecution Service, opposed the two men’s appeal bids, saying ‘there will be cases in which it is necessary to deter people from offending and further law-breaking’.
He said the sentencing judge was not wrong in his approach and placed the case ‘in a high level of seriousness’, noting its impact, duration and planning.
Mr Little said there was a ‘proper basis to impose a sentence which reflected a marked element of deterrent but which would not have a chilling effect on those conducting lawful protests across the country’.
In a reference to other protest incidents, Mr Little said the court could note ‘the fact that Just Stop Oil protests have not been stopped in the middle of the road as a result of this or in the middle of Lords, or Wimbledon, or the Crucible, or wherever’.
Marcus Decker, one of the Just Stop Oil protesters who scaled the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge and sparked more than 40 hours of gridlock, has revealed that he faces being deportation after his two-year jail term. He is pictured scaling the bridge last October
Structural engineer Trowland, of Islington, north London, and private tutor Decker, of no fixed address, denied causing a public nuisance, arguing it was a protest.
Their trial was told the protesters ascended to a point close to 200ft above the road and unfurled a ‘giant Just Stop Oil banner’ and ‘rigged up hammocks and stayed there’.
The men came down at about 5.30pm on October 18 ‘with the help of police and a very tall cherry picker crane’ but the bridge, which links the M25 in Essex and Kent, was not reopened to traffic until later.
Essex Police said those affected by the disruption included a ‘heavily pregnant woman who needed urgent medical help’.
Another person missed the funeral of their best friend of 35 years, the force said, and a business lost more than £160,000 in earnings.
Trowland, wearing a yellow shirt, joined Wednesday’s hearing via video-link, sat alongside Decker, who wore a white T-shirt bearing the image of a red beetle.
Ahead of proceedings, a crowd of singing and placard-waving supporters gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice in central London to demand the pair’s release.
Lady Justice Carr, sitting with Mrs Justice Cutts and Mrs Justice Thornton, said they need to ‘reflect carefully’ before giving their ruling in writing.
‘We are aware of both the potential urgency of the matter and its importance,’ Lady Justice Carr said.
The group are staging another public march today to ‘demand the Home Office ends deportations of peaceful demonstrators’
Last month, German-born Decker, who has leave to remain in the UK, said he had been served with a stage one deportation order.
The group staged another public march to ‘demand the Home Office ends deportations of peaceful demonstrators’.
A petition calling to secure Marcus’ right to remain in the UK has over 79,000 signatures.
Just Stop Oil spokesman, Indigo Rumblelow said: ‘We will be sending a clear message to the Home Secretary that the cowardly ”double punishment” of peaceful people in civil resistance to stop government criminality and protecting the lives of their families will not go unchallenged.
‘We’re demanding that Marcus stays in the UK and is not deported at the end of his sentence so that he can remain with his family, friends, and stepchildren.’
Writing for Prospect in April, Decker said the climb was ‘a desperate last resort after we have spent years trying everything else’
Current laws state that any foreign national will be automatically deported if they have been sentenced to more than 12 months in prison.
Decker had given up his career as a musician to focus on full-time campaigning.
Writing for Prospect in April, Decker said the climb was ‘a desperate last resort after we have spent years trying everything else.’
He added: ‘In the middle of October, after leaving my partner and her two children behind, I straddled a cable with my friend Morgan at 3am and climbed 250ft up the QE2 Bridge, also known as the Dartford Crossing.
‘We are both well-trained as climbers and were safely secured as we nudged ourselves up the bridge.
‘Once at the top, we threw a line across the four-lane motorway and hung a huge orange banner which yelled JUST STOP OIL.
‘To make it more newsworthy, we then rigged up our two hammocks, and literally hung out for a total of 37 hours, causing a gridlock after police closed the bridge to traffic.’