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Insulate Britain protesters fear prison as High Court hearing begins

“Yes I am nervous, anxious, terrified, excited. But it’s good to be able to explain why we’re doing this,” one activist said.

Insulate Britain activists entered the High Court for a contempt of court hearing on Tuesday “nervous and terrified” they will be sent to prison.

Nine of the group’s activists face contempt of court charges for blocking the M25 on October 8, in defiance of an injunction. The charges carry a maximum prison sentence of two years.

“It’s suggested it will be a custodial sentence. Yes I am nervous, anxious, terrified, excited. But it’s good to be able to explain why we’re doing this,” defendant Dr Ben Buse told The Big Issue outside the Royal Courts of Justice.

James Thomas, who has been arrested eight times for the group, said he was worried about the impact going to prison might have on those close to him.

“The scariest part is just splitting for my life for however long. The scariest part of that is my relationship with my partner and how that will be affected. I know that it’s not going to be easy,” Thomas said.

The nine Insulate Britain protesters outside the Royal Courts of Justice. Image: Greg Barradale

Outside the court, Lib Dem leader Ed Davey told The Big Issue he wants the group to join the mainstream of climate protesters, and doesn’t support their tactics.

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“I’m strongly in favour of greater insulation. It’s one of the cheapest most effective ways of tackling climate change. It cuts fuel poverty, cuts people’s heating bills,” Davey, who had arrived in support of another case against oil drilling in Surrey, said.

“I can’t agree with the methods, though, of some of the campaigners. I don’t think they actually help win the public argument.”

Davey added: “I want them to join the wider campaign on climate change because they’ve got a lot of energy and I’d rather they joined the mainstream and helped us win the argument.”

insulate britain, ed davey
Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said the group’s tactics don’t help win the public argument. Image: Greg Barradale

Ahead of the trial, the nine defendants gathered with friends, family, and media in a Pret a Manger opposite the Royal Courts of Justice.

The group was planning to hold a press conference inside the coffee shop, but was told they wouldn’t be able to as the premises wasn’t licensed.

As a crowd gathered outside the court, the defendants convened outside for pictures, then took bags of possessions and walked inside. The trial is scheduled for three days.

Thomas left his 20-year career as an architect to study environmental economics at the LSE, but found it didn’t offer the solutions he wanted.

“In the end I sort of cracked and thought I would need to do something. I was a ‘we should fix it from the inside’ kind of guy, and I was an enlightened capitalist sort of guy,” he said.

The Insulate Britain activists huddle with their friends and families. Image: Greg Barradale

After that, he got involved with protest movements, adding that his inspiration was the film Suffragette, the 2015 film about the fight for women’s votes. Thomas said he had been arrested a total of 25 times, including eight times with Insulate Britain.

He also stressed the group’s demands did not place the burden on the public, but on the government: “If the government is serious about taking real action, the very first thing they’d do is set up a national programme of home retrofits, and that’s what we’re demanding,” he said. “Like the NHS but for home retrofits.”

Regardless of what happened in the court case, Thomas said, he’d be giving the arrests a break.

“I’m knackered, because it’s not easy, and because I am afraid that my relationship will suffer. That’s coming from me,” he said. “I haven’t given civil resistance a rest – I’ll be carrying on doing that – but I don’t know exactly in what form”

Buse, who said he’d breached the injunction several times, said the platform provided by the trials was an opportunity for the group.

“It gives you that chance to explain why these issues are so important. We can’t just keep delaying – by delaying we are actually killing people,” he said.

“We shouldn’t have to choose between a warm house and destroying the planet. Insulation is a win-win because it’s a very effective way of tackling carbon emissions.”

And while he was expecting jail time, he said it wasn’t something he welcomed.

“It’s not something I want to do, but these issues are so important,” Buse said. “If that’s the only way to keep the issue live and keep the pressure on government. We will see what the courts decide.”

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