Dear Priti Patel,
How would you feel if on your twenty-first birthday you were sentenced to prison?
Upon hearing the news that twenty-one year old Louis McKechnie will be sentenced to jail for three months, I feel sick. He is a student of mechanical engineering, hoping to use his mind to combat the climate crisis. He is a good person. He is a person who is morally conscientious. He is a person who wants to do right by the planet and the people who occupy it.
I am a student of journalism and I went to the High Court yesterday to watch the Insulate Britain trial unfold - nine protestors were on trial for breaking the M25 injunction granted to National Highways in September. Louis McKechnie was one of those nine protestors. I asked him how he felt ahead of the trial; he told me he was scared.
This was the first time I have completed a court report, but rather than the grandeur of the building, or the acumen of the legal minds that surrounded me, what struck me the most about the entire trial was the humanity, compassion and care I saw in the people standing in front of the judge. I could not help but feel an immense sense of injustice that people who want to safeguard my future are being condemned. But as a survivor of rape, injustice is a sentiment I know far too well.
In the year to March 2020, 1.4% of rape cases recorded by police resulted in a suspect being
Of the nine protestors standing trial, every single one received jail time. It stuns and unnerves me that rapists walk free and good people are imprisoned. We have decriminalised rape and criminalised people who, like you, are working to safeguard the people and places we call home.
The Cambridge dictionary defines a good person as one who is ‘kind and helpful because it is morally right to be kind and helpful. A good action is morally right.’ Even the prosecution acknowledged the “conscientious motives of the protestors” and made a moral distinction between the “non-violent civil protest and a normal breaker of the law.”
What is the point of me writing this letter? As I set out, I was not sure myself. All I knew was that I felt powerless upon hearing the news that Louis and his fellow protestors had been sentenced to prison, and when I feel deeply about something, I write. I feel it has an incredible healing power that exists solely between pen and page (or more accurately in this case, between keyboard and fingertip!) It is a place to turn when no one wants to listen. I suppose, in a roundabout way, I am inviting you to take a moment and consider that, sometimes, listening is the most powerful thing we can do.
I am writing to you not only as Home Secretary, but as a woman, a mother, a sentient being that thinks and feels deeply and whose identity is far more complex than any number of labels or titles can convey. I ask that you use your power and position to extend an olive branch to Louis McKechnie and truly listen to what he has to say. He is not a criminal, but a powerful human being who deserves to be heard.