Protesters sentenced for fuel train ambush

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A group of environmental protesters who ambushed a freight train as it took fuel to the largest coal-fired power station in Europe cheered in court today after they were sentenced.

A total of 29 protesters took part in a non-violent protest against climate change and the pollution caused by the giant Drax power station, near Selby, North Yorkshire, in June last year.

Today, 26 of those protesters were sentenced for obstructing the railway after they were convicted at Leeds Crown Court earlier this year.

The remaining three will be sentenced in October.

The trial heard how the train was stopped by two men posing as Network Rail staff, wearing orange jackets and hard hats, who held up a red flag.

Moments later, the train and a nearby bridge were scaled by the protesters wearing white paper boiler suits and carrying banners.

The protest lasted 16 hours, causing delays to numerous freight and passenger services and the clean-up operation cost Network Rail nearly £37,000.

None of the defendants denied being on the train but they told the jury they did not believe they were doing anything criminal because they were trying to prevent climate change.

Today, five members of the group were ordered to do 60 hours of unpaid work and the remaining 21 were given a conditional discharge for 12 months.

Most were deemed to have insufficient means to pay any compensation or costs but three were ordered to pay £500 compensation to Network Rail and £500 court costs.

During today's hearing, the group squeezed into the dock, lawyers' benches and jury box as the mitigating features to their cases were outlined to Judge James Stewart QC.

The serious nature of the proceedings was lifted by the occasional joke by the barristers and Judge Stewart pleading guilty when his mobile telephone began to ring as he listened to the case.

As he sentenced the group, which included a vicar and a senior university lecturer, the judge referred to the jocular mood but reminded the defendants not to forget they had committed a crime.

He said: "It may be that you have concluded that these proceedings have been conducted in a sort of good-humoured way and it maybe that, from time to time, there has been light relief and I don't know what you expect but there comes a time when you have to realise that, despite all that, the fact is that each one of you has been convicted of crime.

"You are, each one of you, involved in an elaborate plan to interfere with other people going about their lawful business.

"You were, each one of you, involved in this scheme to disrupt the inflow of coal to Drax power station and you did that by criminal means."

Judge Stewart described the offence, on 13 June last year, as "deliberate" and "well-planned" and said the consequences of the group's actions were "significant".

But he said he recognised that the defendants took care to make sure no-one was injured or alarmed.

Speaking about the group's motives for the protest, he added: "You all sought, I suspect, this level of disruption but principally, you sought publicity for yourselves and your cause."

The judge continued: "It's quite clear to me that each one of you is genuine and committed in your beliefs about climate change and global warming.

"It is also quite clear that apart from your personal political stance, you did not commit this crime for any personal gain."

From the group, five pleaded guilty before trial and two indicated in writing that they would admit the offence.

The remaining 22 were convicted by a jury after the four-day trial.