Judge who jailed ‘Fracking Three’ for climbing on lorries at drilling site has family links to oil and gas firms – and sister said ‘give shale a chance’ in letter backing controversial process
-Judge Robert Altham jailed the trio after they illegally sat on top of lorry cabs
-But family’s business in Lancashire is said to have links to oil and gas industry
-Judge’s sister Jane Watson, 54, has backed an open letter promoting fracking
-Company says that it is a ‘specialist supplier to offshore gas and oil platforms’
The judge who jailed three anti-fracking campaigners for climbing on lorries at a drilling site has family links to the oil and gas industry, it was claimed today.
Judge Robert Altham jailed the trio on September 26 after they spent days illegally sitting on top of lorry cabs to try to disrupt controversial shale gas drilling at a Cuadrilla site in Lancashire.
But the married father-of-three’s family’s business JC Altham and Sons is said to supply offshore gas and oil platforms.
And his sister Jane Watson, has backed an open letter promoting fracking, which said ‘it’s time to give shale a chance’ – claiming that it would create jobs.
The judicial code of conduct states a judge’s impartiality may be questioned if family members are “politically active” or have “financial interest” in the outcome of a case.
Lawyers for the protesters are trying to overturn their sentences. Loizou’s mum Sharron, 62, told the Mirror: “I was completely shocked when he was jailed, the sentence is incredibly harsh. We were expecting community service or a suspended sentence.
“It’s quite scary that in this country you can be jailed for a peaceful protest.”
The protesters climbed on to the roofs of lorries taking drilling equipment to a Cuadrilla fracking site in Little Plumpton, Lancashire, in July 2017. They refused to come down for between 45 and 84 hours, causing disruption and costing the firm £50,000.
Soil scientist Blevins and piano restorer Roberts were given 16-month jail terms while teacher Loizou got 15 months last month.
Sentencing at Preston crown court, Judge Altham said: “Only immediate custody can achieve sufficient punishment.”
The judge’s parents John and Linda, 86 and 84, are directors of J.C. Altham & Sons.
His sister Jane, 54, is managing director of the firm, which supplies ships’ stores, including food, tools, rigging equipment and clothes. The firm’s website says it is a “specialist supplier to offshore gas and oil platforms”.
Three oil rigs in the East Irish Sea – near Altham’s base at Heysham, Lancs – belong to British Gas owner Centrica, which has ploughed tens of millions of pounds into fracking firm Cuadrilla.
In 2015 Jane’s name and that of her firm appeared on an open letter backed by 119 businesses.
It urged Lancashire County Council to permit fracking and create a “£33billion supply chain”.
The campaign was led by North West Energy Task Force, which allegedly received financial support from Cuadrilla and Centrica. The NWETF was later rebranded as lobbying group Lancashire For Shale.
LFS has praised Judge Altham’s decision saying: “Justice was served effectively.”
But more than 200 academics signed an open letter calling for a judicial review of the “absurdly harsh” sentence. About 200 supporters of the trio marched outside HMP Preston, where they are being held, at the weekend. The trio’s lawyers have approached the Court of Appeal and asked for an expedited hearing.
It means they could be freed within weeks if Judge Altham’s sentencing decision is ruled unsafe. Kirsty Brimelow QC, of Doughty Street Chambers, has taken their cases pro-bono. She said: “These men should not be in prison at all, the sentence is manifestly excessive.”
Judges are expected to tell defence and prosecution lawyers if they feel their impartiality in a case may be called into question.
A spokesman for the Judges’ Council said: “There are longstanding principles, set out in case law, which guide how judges approach possible conflicts of interest. They ensure that when hearing a case, a judge will be mindful of possible conflicts of interest and can draw relevant matters to the attention of parties in the case.”
Judge Altham did not wish to add anything to the Judges’ Council’s statement.
Sister Jane, a former police officer whose husband Stephen is the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police, declined to comment today.
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