A climate activist who was sentenced to a minimum of eight months imprisonment for a stunt that blocked the Sydney Harbour Bridge has broken down in tears after a judge overturned her sentence.
Deanna “Violet” Coco was sent to prison for a minimum of eight months last year after pleading guilty to seven charges, including using an authorised explosive not as prescribed, possessing a bright light distress signal in a public place, and interfering with the safe operation of a bridge.
The 31-year-old immediately applied for bail on the basis of an appeal but magistrate Allison Hawkins denied the application.
Hundreds of protesters fronted the NSW District Court on Wednesday as Coco, alongside fellow protester Alan Glover, 61, appealed their sentences in front of Judge Mark Williams.
Climate protester Deanna Coco’s convictions were overturned. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gaye Gerard
Protesters held signs and chanted “this is not a police state” as they walked around the block onto Goulburn St in the city’s CBD.
At 8.30am on April 13 last year, Coco and Glover drove a large hire truck along the Cahill Expressway on the Sydney Harbour Bridge and purposefully blocked a lane during peak hour, according to court documents seen by NCA NewsWire.
While the truck was obstructing traffic, the pair stood on top of it, held a lit emergency flare and livestreamed the event.
After 25 minutes, police arrived and forcibly removed the protesters from the iconic Sydney landmark.
According to court documents, Coco “was laying limp” and resisted arrest, prompting police officers to forcibly remove her to the police vehicle. Glover did not resist arrest.
Initial court documents claimed the protest stopped an ambulance from attending an emergency.
Protesters walking around the block at Sydneyâ€™s District Court ahead of an appeal hearing for Deanna Violet Coco, who was sentenced to 8 months imprisonment for a protest on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. pic.twitter.com/5ro2fDKP7i
— lauren ferri (@lauren_ferri) March 14, 2023
But police have now withdrawn the assertion the ambulance was prevented from attending an emergency – a significant element of the case.
The police acknowledge the ambulance assertion was untrue and now state this in the agreed facts.
“No ambulance was obstructed from responding to an emergency as a result of the incident,” the facts claim.
Originally, the documents stated the “imposition to traffic” prevented the ambulance from moving while under lights and sirens.
During her sentencing on December 2, Coco was slammed by Ms Hawkins as “selfish” and “emotional” before being sentenced to 15 months in prison with an eight-month non-parole period.
She spent a week-and-a-half in Silverwater prison before being released on bail with a raft of conditions, including she not go within 1km of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
The 31-year-old was the first person jailed under the Perrottet government’s tough legislation under which protesters who block roads, bridges and rail lines can be jailed for a maximum of two years.
Coco resisting arrest during the protest last year. Picture: Michelle Haywood
Glover was handed a $3000 fine and sentenced to a community corrections order.
A Crown prosecutor on Wednesday told the court that while Coco was being sentenced for more offences than Glover, “fundamentally” their conduct was “exactly the same”.
“It involved the same degree of objective criminality,” she said.
Judge Williams questioned why Coco was receiving a harsher punishment, with the Crown saying it was due to her prior criminal record.
“She’s been given repeated opportunities to show some respect to the law but has repeatedly broken the law,” the prosecutor told the court
“She has been given multiple opportunities to correct her behaviour, to accept what she’s doing is obstructive and in some ways even dangerous.”
The prosecutor told the court that Coco’s offending was an “emotional act of outrage and rebellion” and an act of “civil disobedience”.
Protesters outside court in December. Picture: NCA NewsWire /Simon Bullard
The court was told Glover was a person of good character with no previous convictions but came before the court as a mature person “who should have had the capacity to know better”.
“Especially given his extensive training as a firefighter … it cannot be described as trivial,” the prosecutor told the court.
“This was not a dire or unavoidable set of offences … this was not an emergency.”
The court was told Glover had expressed remorse and said he would never engage in conduct like this again, while Coco had not.
The prosecutor told the court that Coco had shown herself to be a “danger to the community” and had shown little insight.
Judge Williams set aside Glover’s previous sentence and conviction, handing down a conditional release order for a period of 12 months.
“I’ve not felt it necessary to survey all the detailed facts and subjective material,” he told the court.
The judge told the court that Coco was affected by severe climate anxiety as a response to the threat proposed by climate change.
The court was told Coco was willing to accept the consequences of her actions and was sorry for any stress she caused.
They were there to support Coco. Picture: NCA NewsWire /Simon Bullard
“She is now engaged in constructive volunteer work for victims of floods in Lismore,” Judge Williams said.
Judge Williams rejected the Crown submission that Coco was a danger to the community and demonstrated “no insight” into her offending.
“Given her progress, I do not accept the Crown’s assertion the threshold regarding imprisonment has been crossed,” he said.
The judge set upheld two convictions related to the charges of using an authorised explosive not as prescribed and resisting arrest.
The other conviction was dismissed and Coco was sentenced to a conditional release order for 12 months on the condition she continued treatment with her psychiatrist.
The 31-year-old broke down in court as she heard the news.
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