The release of the three fracking protesters jailed for public nuisance after a sitting on trucks in July 2017, has been welcomed.
Soil scientist Simon Blevins, 26, from Sheffield, and teacher Richard Roberts, 36, of London, were both jailed for 16 months, while piano restorer Rich Loizou, 31, from Devon, was given 15 months in September.
The men had climbed on top of wagons transporting fracking equipment brought in from abroad to Cuadrilla's shale gas drilling site near Little Plumpton on the A583 Preston New Road and had stayed there for up to four days.
But the sentences were overturned by Appeal Court judges who described the sentencing by Judge Robert Altham in Preston as “manifestly excessive.”
They were given conditional discharges for two years.
Supporters in the packed courtroom, who had gathered outside for a demonstration before the hearing, erupted into applause as the decision was announced.
The appeal was backed by human rights organisation Liberty and environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth.
Katie de Kauwe, lawyer at Friends of the Earth, said: “Friends of the Earth intervened in this important case on the basis that these sentences were disproportionate. This is a great outcome.”
Blackpool South Labour MP Gordon Marsden, who had written to the Attorney General over possible links between the judge’s family and the gas industry, said he was delighted.
He said: “The Court of Appeal ruled the sentences were manifestly excessive and this has fully vindicated the many people who had concerns about this issue and this hopefully will send a clear message to the Government.”
He said he would be pressing the Government to answer the three questions he sent to the Attorney General over rules about judges excusing themselves from trials in cases of possible family connections.
Labour’s leader Jeremy Corbyn, said: “I welcome the decision to quash the unjust sentences of fracking protesters.
“We stand in solidarity with the activists and thank them for standing up to the further destruction of our environment by this Tory Government. When Labour gets into government we will ban fracking.”
Emma Norton, Head of Legal Casework at Liberty, said: “The right to protest is fundamental to democracy, and civil disobedience plays a critical role in voicing the conscience of a community when the law falls short of justice.
“When people break the law, they rightly expect to face fair consequences, but the disproportionate punishment of peaceful protesters betrays our values as an open society where we can stand up to power, and risks deterring people from exercising their right to dissent.”
Lancashire resident Nick Danby travelled down to attend the appeal in support on the men.
He said: “These three should never have been sent to prison in the first place and we are delighted to hear today that their appeals have been upheld and that they are to be released with immediate effect.
"The people of Lancashire invited the men to join our protest on the frontlines of fracking in the UK. In a mature democracy, it is essential that citizens are entitled to peaceful protest. If peaceful protest is not tolerated then we no longer live in a democracy. Our best wishes and thanks go to them, their friends and their families.”
But a Lancashire For Shale spokesperson said the protests had caused prolonged disruption to businesses and commuters using the busy Preston New Road, when the police closed the road to deal with the men who had climbed on top of trucks bringing in drilling equipment from abroad to Cuadrilla's drill site..
He said: "We can debate the fairness of the original sentences all day long, but what is totally inarguable is that these three men were found guilty by a Lancashire jury of breaking the law, having 'criminally disrupted' people using the A583 Preston New Road.
"As we've pointed out before, these are not victimless crimes, with ordinary people and businesses unfairly hit in the pocket as a result of direct action protests."