An Insulate Britain campaigner who undertook a hunger strike while in prison has said it “made her focus” on her campaigning efforts for the group.
Emma Smart was freed from HMP Bronzefield in Surrey shortly after 9.40am on Friday after being sentenced to four months in prison in November.
The ecologist was one of six people released on Friday after they were jailed for breaching a Government injunction which prevented them from protesting on major roads in the UK.
Dr Diana Warner, a retired GP, was also released from the same prison.
People cheered and clapped after they exited the site, with Ms Smart punching the air. They were then hugged by friends and supporters.
Four other members of Insulate Britain – James Thomas, an architect, Oliver Rock, a carpenter, Roman Paluch, a warehouse operator, and Tim Speers, a volunteer, were released from HMP Thameside, in south-east London.
Speaking to the media afterwards, Ms Smart said: “This is amazing. This is a beautiful day. It is lovely to have the sun on me – I’ve not had it on me for a few weeks.”
During her time in prison, Ms Smart undertook a 26-day hunger strike while in prison and was moved to the hospital wing 13 days into her strike.
She said she decided to do it while incarcerated as she was “absolutely appalled” by the sentence they were given.
“When I was sat in the van being taken from court to the prison, I just remember thinking about the injustice of it all and the words of the judge – that we had caused harm to the public and harm to the economy. I was absolutely outraged,” she told the PA news agency.
“We were trying to prevent harm – 8,500 people dying every single year because they can’t afford to heat their homes and eat. That’s appalling, that’s harm.
“(The hunger strike) was a tiny insight into these parents who go without eating so they can feed their children. It really strengthened my resolve. I hadn’t done it before, I didn’t know how it would go, it wasn’t easy, but it really made me focus on why I’m doing this.”
Asked if she would take to the roads again, she said: “As long as our Government is continuing to fail and betray our people in both a climate crisis, a fuel crisis, a crisis of ordinary people dying, then I will continue to protest. I will not stop, I will not be a bystander while this Government betrays its people.”
Responding to reports that she and her husband, Andy Smith, had previously undertaken a road trip in a diesel vehicle, she said: “I think it’s very easy for people to focus on something negative like that. It was 12 years ago.
“I wrote a blog about the carbon cost of travelling. I calculated the amount of carbon that we would use on our trip compared to living at home and we’d actually use less carbon by living in our car with our solar panels despite the diesel.”
She added: “We’re all hypocrites. I think people should stop worrying (and thinking) ‘I can’t be a protester because of the clothes I wear or the car I drive’. I think we’ve got to look beyond that and start taking these issues really seriously.”
Mr Smith, who is not a member of the group, said he was “incredibly proud” of Ms Smart.
Becoming emotional, he told PA: “She’s got one of the strongest moral compasses of anyone I know and she’s taking this action from a place of kindness, with a deep love of the environment, with a deep love of nature, a deep love of our nieces who she is trying to protect.”
A final member of the group, Ben Taylor, a community volunteer, remains in prison after being handed a six-month sentence.
Three other members of the group who were jailed last year have since been released.