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Rapists could be effectively freed or put on bail because of the lack of space in our prison system, according to a shocking Times report this week.
It’s a scandal for women’s safety. But it’s also a grim juxtaposition for the dozen or so nonviolent climate protesters who have served time for direct action over the past year. One of them is David Nixon.
The 37-year-old care worker and environmental campaigner from Barnsley was convicted at Inner London Crown Court this February. He’d already been convicted for blocking a road in London as part of an Insulate Britain action in October 2021.
This time, it was for contempt of court. Hard-nosed Judge Silas Reid had instructed defendants to not mention climate change as the driving force behind their actions. Nixon ignored it, explaining that fuel poverty is a major killer in Britain – and was the precise reason he blocked roads to highlight the issue. He was released in May. We spoke to him about his experience behind bars.
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Byline Times: Can you explain how you ended up being convicted and sentenced?
David Nixon: “I’ve been to prison twice this year for the same case. I had a trial at the Crown Court. I got found guilty, but then at that trial, we weren’t allowed to discuss our motives and reasons for protests. And so I did that anyway, in front of the jury and judge.
“Judge Silas Reid said we were in contempt of court. So I got sentenced for that as well.”
BT: And what exactly did you say that fell foul of contempt of court?
DN: “I just talked about the climate. During the prosecution’s arguments, they were talking about 8.5 thousand people being delayed in buses through our roadblock.
“So I countered that by saying about 8.5 thousand people were estimated to have died of fuel poverty in 2020.
“This was disruption in the face of death. I went on to mention the climate crisis, but by the time I got into the climate crisis, the jury had been sent out, and I was merely talking to the judge.”
BT: So you mentioned fuel poverty and the climate crisis, and were sent to prison?
DN: “Yes. I went back to prison for two and a half weeks.”
BT: So in total, you’ve done a month or two in prison for your actions?
DN: “Yes. Close to two months this year….I did about two weeks in total last year as well [for a similar action].”
BT: What were your main takeaways from serving in HMP Thameside and HMP Chelmsford? Did you get the feeling that the prisons were full?
DN: “Yes…Definitely on the first evening they were scrambling around for cells and where to put people. But once I got a cell like it was hard to sense it.
“The low staffing levels were more apparent rather than overcrowding. Once you’re in a cell it’s quite hard to gauge. The prisons are very, very full though.
“I’m guessing that you were quite a low categorisation in terms of your risk to the public, but presumably, you’re in prison alongside some pretty violent slash dangerous individuals.
“Yes, so at HMP Thameside and HMP Chelmsford, both the wings that I was in were Category B. So yes, I would have been around all sorts. It was mainly drug dealers and some gun offences that I spoke to, but I’m sure there was [other] violent crime as well.”
BT: You were effectively alongside people who had committed gun offences whereas you’d delayed several buses.
DN: “You could put it that way, yes.”
BT: How did understaffing manifest itself in terms of your experience and how you were treated?
DN: “I don’t think I had one conversation with a staff member. It was mainly a question to get a one word answer. And that was it. They were just too busy. They did speak to certain prisoners, of course.
“You also have the issue of cells not getting unlocked because there wasn’t enough staff to unlock people. That type of thing. I remember one distinct day where I was due to go to the library…I didn’t get unlocked because the staffer needed to facilitate [another] movement.”
BT: So you didn’t get out of your cell that day?
DN: “Generally they did try to get us out, in the afternoon, for exercise. Otherwise, it would have been gnarly…I feel very fortunate for all because that’s not always the case.”
BT: How much time do you get out of your cell – an hour a day?
DN: “Yes, split in two. It was half an hour in the morning and then half in the afternoon. Sometimes you get [given] a bit longer in the afternoon.”
BT: Were you serving alongside other Insulate Britain protesters at the time?
DN: “The second time, someone else got in from Insulate Britain. One of my co-defendants was sent to prison at the same time, and then someone else came in a week later. But they got shifted to an over 50s wing.”
BT: When you hear about these issues of prison overcrowding and serious criminals being put on bail, because there’s not enough space in prisons – what does that make you think about how nonviolent protesters are treated? Many more could presumably be locked up in the coming years for climate protests.
DN: “Yes. It just shows that we’re perceived to be a threat. You’ve got to expect being sent to prison at some point because ultimately, if we are successful, we are a real challenge to the status quo. The powers that be will maintain the status quo for their own sake.
“It’s not pleasant. and I definitely want people to think about putting themselves in that position after being in it myself. It is not an easy thing to do.
“But the state response is expected and it’s terrible. It’s terrible that violent criminals and rapists potentially walk free – but we potentially won’t.
“[Just Stop Oil protesters] Marcus Trowland and Morgan Decker are in prison right now, for blocking the Dartford crossing. They blocked off the bridge.”
BT: Presumably they’re both serving fairly short sentences?
DN: “They got three years. Marcus [then 40] got two years, nine months and Morgan [then 34] got three years…That happened last October. It’s coming up to the year anniversary for them being imprisoned.”
BT: With good behaviour, could they be out in a few months?
DN: “Yes, Morgan could. Marcus is a bit more complicated because he’s a German national, so there’s some residency issues.
“On 23rd of October, there’s another case in the Royal Courts of Justice from an injunction breach. Protesters took over the M25 gantries last November.”
BT: There’s an injunction banning protests on the M25, right?
“Yes, and they [allegedly] broke it. They are being taken to court twice: they’re getting taken to [a Crown] court for the criminal charges that they got charged with, and then taken to [a magistrates] court for the injunction break. So they’re getting punished twice for the same action.”
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