STUDENTS who stormed a high-profile conference at Lancaster University but escaped a jail sentence are to appeal against the fines they were handed.

The students - dubbed the George Fox Six - were given a two years conditional dis-charge and £300 fine each for aggravated trespass by Lan-caster magistrates on Friday.

Joanne Moody, 26, Rhiannon Westhall, 30, Matthew Wilson, 27, Rachel Jackson, 20, Anthony Ayre, 20, and Keith Richardson, 33, all of Lancaster, pleaded not guilty to the offence of storming the George Fox lecture theatre - named after the famous Quaker founder and pacifist George Fox.

But District Judge Peter Ward told the students last Friday that their demonstration had denied the rights of the people attending the conference and they had been a 'nuisance'.

Prosecutor Neil Addison told the court how the students burst into the conference, banged drums, blew whistles, jumped onto the stage and intimidated members of the conference and university staff.

Judge Ward said it seemed clear to him that what the protestors did was to stop the flow of the conference - and there could be no doubt they intended to do so.

None of the students could have believed that they were allowed into a private conference, he said.

"The persons attending the conference were denied the right to discuss their agenda because of the disruption of the protesters," he told the court. "There was no reason why the defendants could not have protested outside or have a meeting of their own to discuss their views. Their right to freedom of speech was not denied."

Moody, a PhD student in biological science and part-time teaching assis-tant at the university, told the court: "I wanted to get my views across to the people attending this conference and to others at the university.

"There would have been large groups of people at the university who would have been opposed to some companies at this conference."

Speaking after the sentence Wilson said: "We are disappointed but remain proud of what we did and the moral victory is ours."

A spokesman for the university said: "We welcome the clarification of what constitutes a peaceful protest. We believe the actions of the protestors went beyond what would normally be accepted as peaceful.

"The university supports the rights of individuals to express their opinions in a peaceful manner.

"Historically we have a commitment to peaceful protest and continue to permit such protests including others by these protestors themselves in public areas of campus."