Ashburton man Morgan Trowland given prison time for blocking popular UK bridge in climate change protest

A New Zealand man who caused mass disruption during a UK climate change protest has been sentenced to years in prison in what is reportedly one of the longest sentences for a peaceful protest in British history.  

Morgan Trowland, a 40-year-old civil engineer from Ashburton, tied himself to the top of a busy bridge forcing its closure for nearly two days in protest against new government gas and oil licences. 

Trowland was sentenced to three years in prison alongside another man, Marcus Decker, who received two years and seven months. Spokespeople from the activist group Just Stop Oil the pair were a part of said these were the longest sentences for peaceful climate protest in British history.

The sentencing was under the controversial new UK crime bill passed in 2022, which gives more power to the police and justice system and encompasses restrictions on protests.  

Morgan Trowland while occupying the bridge.
Morgan Trowland while occupying the bridge. Photo credit: Facebook

On October 17, 2022, the pair used ropes to scale the busy Queen Elizabeth II bridge in Dartford. The two men then unrolled a Just Stop Oil-branded banner.

The bridge was closed for the duration of the protest before police used a crane to bring the pair down the following day.

Trowland had six previous convictions relating to protests. During evidence, he told the court they climbed the bridge to deliver a "warning message".

Prosecutors said the closure caused "gridlock for miles around" and delayed almost 565,000 drivers, the court notes said.

There were personal accounts of more than one funeral of friends or close relatives missed, missed medical appointments leading to continued pain and lost revenue from businesses.

The Queen Elizabeth II Bridge.
The Queen Elizabeth II Bridge. Photo credit: Getty Images

"By your actions you caused this very important road to be closed for 40 hours. This of course as you knew obstructed many tens of thousands indeed hundreds of thousands of members of the public some very significantly," Judge Collery KC said.

"Your obstruction continued over a significant period of time. That was your intention."

After waiting six months in custody, the pair were sentenced this week. 

Judge Collery KC handed down the strict sentence to deter potential copycats. 

"You have to be punished both for the chaos you caused and to deter others from seeking to copy you in that next protest," Judge Collery KC said. 

"Deterring you and others from actions that cause such a level of nuisance is an important aspect of this sentence."

Trowland posted on social media that it feels "much calmer" to watch the world dying from the safety of a prison cell.

"A year ago I accepted spending time in prison. I cannot enjoy liberty in a society that makes plans to kill people on a massive scale, not with oil and gas, not with any means. I will not be complicit in that," he wrote.

Just Stop Oil said they were horrified by the sentencing. 

"I am absolutely horrified and disgusted by what has happened here today, it's absolutely not justice," a Just Stop Oil spokesperson told the BBC.

Just Stop Oil is an environmental activist group known for its dramatic protest actions which has made headlines worldwide. Some of these include throwing tomato soup over a Van Gogh painting, smearing chocolate cake over a wax statue of King Charles III and halting a world snooker championship by dousing the table with orange powder.