Free from fear or favour
No tracking. No cookies

Insulate Britain Activists Defiant After Being Locked Up for ‘Speaking Truth’ on Climate

“I’ve always known that it was the right thing to do, and paying this price is the right thing to do as well. It had to be done,” one ex-prisoner tells Josiah Mortimer Insulate Britain protesters locked up for defying a judge’s ban from speaking about climate change and fuel poverty have told Byline Times […]

Amy Pritchard (right of centre) with supporters and Cllr Giovanna Lewis (left of centre). Photo: Josiah Mortimer/Byline Times

Insulate Britain Activists Defiant After Being Locked Up for ‘Speaking Truth’ on Climate

“I’ve always known that it was the right thing to do, and paying this price is the right thing to do as well. It had to be done,” one ex-prisoner tells Josiah Mortimer

Newsletter offer

Receive our Behind the Headlines email and we’ll post a free copy of Byline Times

Insulate Britain protesters locked up for defying a judge’s ban from speaking about climate change and fuel poverty have told Byline Times they have no regrets and would do it again. 

Labour councillor and Insulate Britain activist Giovanna Lewis, from Dorset, and Amy Pritchard from London, came out of HMP Bronzefield women’s prison in Surrey on Monday having served three and a half weeks of a seven week sentence.

Their release comes in the same week as the publication of a damning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report showing there is still a brief window of time to avoid the very worst of climate disaster. Over 40% of the global population are “highly vulnerable” to climate change, the study found.

The two activists had been charged with causing a public nuisance by gluing themselves to a road in Bishopsgate, City of London, in October 2021, the Dorset Echo reported. It formed part of Insulate Britain’s efforts to highlight the need for a mass insulation programme to tackle fuel poverty and CO2 emissions. They was put on trial in the Inner London Crown Court. 

Don’t miss a story

They and several other protesters were then slapped with a gagging order from the judge, ordering them not to mention climate change or fuel poverty as the causes of their protests – with the judge deeming it irrelevant to the issue of criminality. 

Cllr Lewis and Amy Pritchard were sentenced to prison last month for disobeying the judge’s order. 

Cllr Lewis told Byline Times outside the prison that she had no regrets “at all”: “I’ve always known that it was the right thing to do, and paying this price is the right thing to do as well. It had to be done.”

She speculated that Judge Silas Reid would now have to “hold” on to his ruling. “He denied us the opportunity to speak about fuel poverty. That’s personally one of the biggies for me, because that’s the immediate problem for most people. 

“Not to be able to talk to the jury in a British court of law about why you’re there and what you were aiming to achieve is pretty horrendous. It shocked us right from the start, and so I knew I had to do something about that. I wasn’t going to be silenced.”

Cllr Lewis and several others are expected to find out this Friday 31st if their public nuisance case will go back to trial, after it resulted in a hung jury. “It will be such a shocking waste of resources to send us back in front of a jury who spent nine days listening to this very long, lengthy, protracted thing,” the climate activist told Byline Times

Insulate Britain supporters who were recently sentenced were asked to pay £20,000 costs, which is likely to correspond with what the case cost the public purse. 

She claimed that HMP Bronzefield was “half full” of women waiting for trials or on remand. “They’re thinking about taking us back to trial when they couldn’t get a guilty conviction the first time. It’s absolutely shocking. And it costs about £1000 a day to keep somebody in there.” 

The Insulate Britain activist estimated that around half of the prisoners at HMP Bronzefield were there because of drug-related crimes.


Prison Experience

Amy Pritchard, who took part in the same 2021 London protest as Cllr Lewis, came out of prison shaken. “It’s been chaos. There has been loads of violence and a lack of care, and a lot of unwell people,” she said. She was moved to cells six times due to “disorganisation” she claimed. 

The prison is run by privatiser Sodexo. Pritchard believes it makes a difference to the quality of service: “What I hear inside is that the prisoners have more power to run things here, or to be a bit more disobedient than in [publicly-run] prisons. 

Drugs and violence were a major issue, Pritchard, a London-based horticulturalist, said. And while noting she was very privileged to have been able to “essentially choose to go in and have a very short sentence” it was “definitely not” something she’d jump back into. 

“I basically haven’t really slept for a month. I need to take care of myself now,” the London activist said. 

Cllr Giovanna Lewis had a different experience on the detox wing of the prison – where she was placed due to lack of space. She said it was “manageable” but also host to many women with serious mental health issues.

“There were two women in particular who really should not have been there. They couldn’t cope, and the other women couldn’t cope with their behaviour. And luckily, they were moved on to what they call the health care wing. 

Pritchard (left) with recent releasee David Nixon (centre) and Cllr Lewis (right). Photo: Josiah Mortimer/Byline Times.

“But one of them had been sectioned, and she was on a prison wing because there were no mental health beds, and she just needed some kindness towards her. But for a lot of the women, there are limits and found it very difficult and very challenging the behaviours that were presented to them,” she added.

Prisoners have to use a touch screen device on the wall to manage all their communication with the outside world – and permissions on moving around in the prison: “Everything you order, your requests for education, the whole thing, your emails, everything is on this screen called The Pod.”

She described the situation as a shambles. “You have so little time out of the cells, and 40 of you are supposed to be able to do your communication on the Pod, print your slips, look at your emails if you have any, select your food, book a shower. That’s all booked through one screen.

“And then last night, it stopped working. You can’t move around the prison if you’ve got to go for an appointment, you need to print a movement slip off this Pod,” she said.  

However, the “big, big scandal”, the protester said, is that there will be “more people dying of food poverty now than there were when we blocked the road at that time.” 


Solidarity 

David Nixon is another climate activist who was recently sentenced for contempt of court for talking about climate change. He was released two weeks ago and formed part of the release party at HMP Bronzefield on Monday. 

Nixon, who was incarcerated in Thameside prison, describes his experience as “pretty rubbish” said he was glad he broke the judge’s gagging order. 

“I knew the consequences because I had told Judge Reid I was thinking about doing it. He said it was likely [to result in] an immediate custodial sentence. 

“It is an emotional decision, but once I’d made the decision, it was fine, and I was at peace. I was happy to do it because not being able to mention climate change in the courtroom in 2023 is ridiculous. So I still feel strongly in my decision, and I think it was the right one.” He told Byline Times he would consider rejecting a gagging order from the judge again. 

Nixon, a residential carer in the north of England, revealed that he has another round of sentencing coming up but that he remains involved in Insulate Britain – and therefore stands a strong chance of going back to prison in the next few months. 

He received a guilty verdict for disruption at another Insulate Britain protest and will be sentenced on 21 April: “I think the outcome of that is likely a prison sentence, a short prison sentence. So, yes, prison is on the agenda in the future.”

The activist said the world faces an “existential crisis” over climate: “We have got to be focusing on this.” 

Is he the Daily Mail’s idea of a full-time activist? “Yes.”  But he is “perfectly at peace” wi that, he says, adding: “Of course we don’t want to disrupt people, but I’m at ease with that. My moral and ethical dilemmas have been well thought about. It’s a continuing process, but I’m at ease with my decisions.”

Got a story for Byline Times? Contact josiah@bylinetimes.com in confidence


Written by

This article was filed under
, , , , ,

Subscribe to Byline Times

This website is free. We don’t have a paywall, there are no ads, we don’t profile you with intrusive analytics or track you with cookies. Unlike most UK papers, Byline Times is subscriber-funded. Our team is small, we keep overheads low, we pay journalists fairly… and we pay our taxes in the UK.

An easy way to support us is to receive our newsletter emails (and install our app, for iOS or Android); we gain insight into our readership, and you make sure you don’t miss vital news.

Subscribing to our print newspaper (from £3.75/month) is the best possible support for our journalism. We also sell gift vouchers and books.