TWO climate activists from the Forest went through "a traumatic experience" in London this month when they were arrested for protesting new oil and gas licenses in the UK.

Lydney-based Louise Penny and her partner Steve Stockham, both former town councillors, marched with national climate group Just Stop Oil (JSO) in east London on Friday, November 10.

The protesters were demanding that the government halt all new oil, gas and coal projects, licences for which were announced as part of a u-turn on several environmental pledges recently.

Following a slow walking protest in which 22 supporters blocked the road for traffic, chanted their cause and held up JSO banners, all bar three of the group were arrested, including Louise and Steve.

They were taken to Walworth Prison where they were held for several hours, before being released without questioning.

The couple can be seen carrying a JSO banner at the front of the march in a video taken by comedian Kate Smurthwaite (above).

It marked the end of two weeks of slow walking protests in the capital, with the Met Police reporting at least 298 arrests of JSO campaigners since the start of November. 

It comes amid reports this week that the United Nations warned the UK government in the summer that “severe” jail sentences for JSO campaigners could have the effect of deterring people from exercising their right to protest. 

A letter from UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the context of climate change, Ian Fry, also said new measures brought in to curb tactics from protest groups such as JSO appeared to be “a direct attack on the right to the freedom of peaceful assembly”.

Lydney’s Steve Stockham and Louise Penny (front, holding banner) were arrested for their part in a Just Stop Oil protest march in east London earlier this month. Pic: Just Stop OIl
Lydney’s Steve Stockham and Louise Penny (front, holding banner) were arrested for their part in a Just Stop Oil protest march in east London earlier this month (Just Stop OIl)

Louise gave her account of the experience, which she described as “traumatic” but one she “will always remember”, in a Facebook post last week.

She said: “I was walking slow in time, completely distraught that I was having to do it. Everything around me was going so fast, cars passing by, loud horns, people shouting, mainly in support. I was just slowly walking, aware, but not present enough.

“I was handcuffed and waited in the cold, to then be taken in a poxy van to Walworth police station, where the kind police officers checked me in.

“The cell was cold, the food was disgusting and I lay with the blanket up tight over my head, until I was told I was going to be questioned. This never happened, they released me not long after. 

“What was wonderful, was the people in JSO, everyone looks out for each other, I was greeted with hugs and claps when I walked out of that police station and I cannot thank (fellow campaigners) Shaun and Matt enough, for their kindness that evening.”

Louise said she has long considered protesting the issue but was previously unsure as to the effectiveness of JSO’s methods.

But following Rishi Sunak’s climate u-turn and the announcement of new licences, she said the question was not ‘whether it works’, but “could I continue to not do this? Could I be complicit with this government and governments all around the world? No, I couldn’t.

“It’s stated by the UN that over 2 million people have died from extreme weather in the last 50 years and research shows that 3.6 billion people already live in areas highly susceptible to climate change. 

“It is the poorest in our societies that will suffer the most as always, we can’t let the elites continue to destroy our future so they can continue to get richer.

“As we all know, it’s the working people that have brought about change through history, the difference is that this time it’s much more serious!  

“I have to have hope that this will happen again, we have to come together to fight for our people, our children and grandchildren to change our lifestyles.

"I know people are fed up with climate protesters, I know people are fed up with the government, I know most people are just trying to survive this cost of living crisis, but the devastating conclusion is, this won’t get better.

"People either join the fight, if they’re able, or they continue to carry on with their heads down and it will be worse.”

Steve Stockham was held for seven-and-a-half hours before being released on police bail for his part in the march.

He commented: “Over the years I’ve taken part in protests, walkouts and strikes, I’ve written letters to MPs and the media and signed may petitions, but all to no avail. 

“This wouldn’t matter if I was in the minority, democracy is all about winners and losers, but in the case of the current climate and environmental crisis the overwhelming number of scientists in the field agree that if we do not rapidly reduce our use of carbon fuels to near zero immediately our planet earth will become uninhabitable for any form of life.” 

And he feels the government is not being held to account for “deliberately and blatantly” breaking its climate commitments.

“We, the people, are the last line of defence to preserve life on earth so I felt responsible to friends, family and neighbours to take this action.”