THE mother and sister of jailed student protester Frank Fernie have spoken of their shock and devastation at his year-long sentence.

Diane Fernie, said the actions of her son at the London protest march against Government spending cuts in March were completely out of character.

She said she and her daughter, Victoria Nissley, were shocked by the sentence. Diane’s comments came as nearly 1,000 friends and supporters joined a campaign on social networking site Facebook called “Free York Student Frank Fernie”.

She said the family were now planning an appeal against his sentence for throwing two poles at police during the protest march.

Diane said: “Anyone who knows him will realise that it’s not Frank. Frank is a really genial young man. He hasn’t got a grain of malice in him and we are very grateful for all the offers of help and support.”

Victoria said: “I can genuinely say he has never been involved in anything like this before. It is completely new territory. All the people on the Facebook page, they are amazing support and help.

“It’s not that we think he should not have been punished – he has done something wrong. What we are concerned about is the length of sentence. He has been used as an example.”

Frank, 20, of Filey Terrace, Clifton, who has just finished English, politics and biology A-levels at York College after studying at Archbishop Holgate’s CE School, had hoped to go on to Sheffield Hallam University and was described in court as being an “exceptionally promising” student.

Now his family, who have no experience of the criminal justice system, are looking into ways of appealing against his sentence.

Diane, who lives in York, and the family is awaiting permission to go and visit him in London’s Feltham jail.

As The Press reported last week, Frank was among 500,000 people who travelled to London to protest peacefully on March 26.

But he was captured on CCTV throwing two poles at officers in London’s Piccadilly in the middle of mob violence and then immediately walking away. Victoria, who lives in Wakefield, said she did not condone the violence, but she was proud he was prepared to stand up peacefully for what he believed in.

She said: “As family, you always think they don’t deserve it when someone is punished, but all the Facebook supporters agree with us.”

Frank, who has worked for a range of charities and good causes in York, handed himself in after police circulated photos of people “wanted” for the violence that left shops and banks vandalised.

Kingston Crown Court heard Frank had travelled down to London with friends to march peacefully against the Government cuts, but got caught up in the melee in Piccadilly.

The prosecution accepted his part had been restricted to throwing the two missiles but he was jailed for 12 months after pleading guilty to violent disorder.