Climate activist Deanna ‘Violet’ Coco’s 15-month jail sentence quashed on appeal
A 15-month jail sentence imposed on a climate protester who blocked one lane on the Sydney Harbour Bridge with a truck has been quashed.
Deanna “Violet” Coco, 32, was issued with a 12-month conditional release order on Wednesday after district court judge Mark Williams heard she had been initially imprisoned on false information provided by the NSW police.
Coco cried tears of joy in court, with her supporters cheering outside the Downing Centre.
She told reporters she would pursue compensation against the police after spending 13 days in prison.
“Obviously we need to continue our right to protest. Protest is such an important part of our democracy,” she said.
“I plan to keep continuing to raise the alarm on the climate and ecological emergency to avert billions of deaths.”
NSW Greens MP and spokesperson for justice, Sue Higgins, said the case has brought the cost of NSW anti-protest laws to democracy into plain view.
“The NSW Coalition, in lockstep with Labor, created a moral panic in response to climate activist protests and rushed anti-protest laws through the parliament,” Higgins said.
“The Greens will challenge the next parliament to review and repeal these anti-protest laws and to ensure that members of the community who engage in peaceful protest and nonviolent civil disobedience are not sentenced to prison terms.”
The Coalition passed the anti-protest laws with Labor’s backing in April last year. It includes fines of up to $22,000 and up to two years in jail for anyone found to have blocked major infrastructure in a way which “seriously disrupts or obstructs vehicles or pedestrians”.
Coco was the first person to be jailed under the laws and was granted bail in December.
Coco and three others drove a Hino truck on to the Harbour Bridge in morning peak hour on 13 April, 2022, as part of an environmental protest against climate inaction for Fireproof Australia.
Climbing on to the roof of the vehicle alongside Alan Russell Glover, the pair lit orange flares and livestreamed the protest.
Two others, Karen Fitzgibbon and Jay Larbalestier, sat on the ground in front of the truck and superglued their hands to the roadway.
On Wednesday, Williams heard an appeal by Coco of the 15-month jail sentence imposed in the local court last December.
He noted police had included a “false fact” and a “false assertion” in their case against Coco that an ambulance with flashing sirens and lights had been impeded from crossing the bridge to an emergency because of the protest.
President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Josh Pallas, said the revelation the police included false information in their case against Coco was “shocking”.
“In the lead up to the election on 25 March, pressure is building on premier Dominic Perrottet as the reality of how bad it is for protestors in NSW today sinks in,” he said.
Crown prosecutor Isabella Maxwell-Williams unsuccessfully argued Coco should be incarcerated because of her lengthy history of illegal protest which included supergluing herself to an intersection in St Kilda as part of the Extinction Australia group.
She said the protest was not peaceful, in that it affected many hundreds of Sydneysiders and put the community as well as the activists themselves in danger.
The judge noted that these past matters had all been dealt with through fines or bonds without any convictions.
He also said she had showed remorse for her actions and was channelling her diagnosed climate anxiety into productive community work such as volunteering to help flood victims in Lismore.
With the jail term quashed, Coco remains convicted for two charges of resisting police and using an unauthorised explosive.
At the same time, Williams heard an appeal by Glover, now 61, of an 18-month community correction order.
The judge quashed convictions for Glover and imposed a 12-month conditional release order, hearing that this was his first criminal offence and the charges had resulted in him being stood down from working as a volunteer firefighter.
The court heard Glover was a man of “considerable bravery” having risked his life battling the 2019/2020 Black Summer bushfires.
NSW police declined to comment.