Two Extinction Rebellion (XR) protesters today pleaded guilty to their part in a demonstration that disrupted the distribution of national newspapers.
Eleanor McAree, 26, of Brentwood, was also in breach of a nine-month conditional discharge imposed last December for an Extinction Rebellion protest in London.
The second defendant, Will Farbrother, 39, of Walthamstow, also pleaded guilty.
McAree, who earns £41,000 a year as a project manager, was fined £500 for the Broxbourne obstruction, plus £105 costs, £50 victim surcharge and £150 for breaching the conditional discharge.
Farbrother, who is giving up his £39,000 a year job as a civil servant to work with refugees in Athens, was of previous good character. He was given a six-month condition discharge and was ordered to pay £105 costs and a £22 victim surcharge.
They were among 51 people charged with obstruction after more than 100 protesters targeted Newsprinters printing works at Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, and Knowsley, near Liverpool, on September 4.
Roads were blocked and XR protesters chained themselves to structures in a demonstration that lasted from 10pm that Friday to 11am the next morning.
It meant newspapers including the Daily Mail, The Times and the Daily Telegraph were not distributed on time, causing delays for readers to receive their copies. Some readers did not receive that day’s copy of their newspaper.
XR protesters staged a demonstration outside St Albans Magistrates’ Court today where 24 people are due to appear accused of disrupting the distribution of national newspapers
More than 100 protesters targeted Newsprinters printing works at Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, and Knowsley, near Liverpool, on September 4. Roads were blocked and XR protesters chained themselves to structures. The blockade disrupted the distribution of newspapers
XR claimed that it was using the disruption to ‘expose’ newspapers’ ‘failure to report on the climate and ecological emergency’.
They alleged: ‘Coverage in many of the newspapers printed here is polluting national debate on climate change, immigration policy, the rights and treatment of minority groups, and on dozens of other issues.’
However, critics including Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the blockade an attack on the free press.
Today two defendants pleaded guilty to the charge of obstructing highway before District Judge Gillian Allison at St Albans Magistrates’ Court.
Opening the case, prosecutor Nigel Ogborne said: ‘At 10pm on 4 September Hertfordshire police were called to Waltham Cross to a large number of people protesting outside the Newsprint Printworks.
‘There were 50 to 60 individuals. A number were chained together in a plastic tube full of cement. Two others were on ropes. Two Luton vans were blocking the road in the form of an arrow.’
The protesters would not move and the police called in officers with specialist cutting equipment.
XR protesters pictured blocking access to Newsprinters printing plant at Broxbourne
He said McAree had an arm in the tube and was lying under the axle of a van. Specialist officers had to cut her free at 8.44am. Mr Farbrother was in the tube of cement.
Mr Ogborne said 133 staff were stuck in the building during the protest. Seventy-eight vehicles were hired to get them home.
He said the distribution of three and a half million papers and magazines was disrupted, meaning 1,185 retailers did not get their supply of newspapers.
News UK lost in the region of £1.2million, he said. Mr Ogborne added that a neighbourIng car retailer also lost £125,000 of business.
McAree told the court a ‘small group of millionaires controlled the press’.
Laura O’Brien for Farbrother said he was giving up a well paid job to work with refugees. She said he was of previous good character.
Meanwhile, nine more defendants pleaded not guilty today to obstructing the highway during the Extinction Rebellion protest.
Tim Jones, 37, of London, Richard Felgate, 28, of Walthamstow, and Rosamund Frost, 29, of London will stand trial at Stevenage Magistrates’ Court in May next year.
Susan Hampton of Berkhamsted and Jennifer Parkhouse of Norwich will go on trial in June next year at Stevenage.
Gillian Fletcher, 58, of Wokingham, Michelle MacDonagh, 33, of Chipstead, Coulsdon, Surrey, Tristain Strange, 38, of Swindon and Lucy Porter, 45, of Bradford also pleaded not guilty and will have their trial date fixed tomorrow.
The Home Secretary has ordered a review of the law aimed at toughening sentences for the environmental extremists after they blockaded newspaper print works in a bid to stifle free speech.
Options being considered include designating the group as an organised crime gang, which would leave militants open to the threat of up to five years in jail.
In total, 77 people have been charged for the disruption at both printing sites.
Today 24 people are due to appear before District Judge Gillian Allison at St Albans Magistrates’ Court in batches of three. They are:
- Eleanor Bujak, aged 27, of London
- Samina Bunker, aged 38, of Waltham Forest
- Sally Davidson, aged 33, of London
- Will Farbrother, 39, of Walthamstow
- Richard Felgate, aged 28, of Walthamstow
- Gillian Fletcher, aged 58, of Wokingham
- Laura Frandsen, aged 30, of London
- Rosamund Frost, aged 29, of London
- Susan Hampton, aged 64, of Berkhamsted
- Casper Hughes, aged 49, of Exeter
- Amir Jones, aged 39, of London
- Charlotte Kirin, aged 51, of Bury St Edmunds
- Michelle MacDonagh, aged 33, of Coulsdon, Surrey
- Eleanor McAree, aged 26, of Brentwood
- Thomas Lee Newman, aged 29, of Bradford
- Liam Norton, aged 35, of Scarborough
- Jennifer Parkhouse, aged 68, of Norwich
- Lucy Porter, aged 45, of Bradford
- Ryan Simmons, aged 34, of Lewisham
- Timothy Spears, aged 35, of Waltham Forest
- Hazel Stenson, aged 56, of Bury St Edmonds
- Edward Tombes, aged 59, of Islington
- Ben Ramos Wheeler, aged 19, of Kennington
- Elise Yarde, aged 32, of London.