A group of anti-fracking campaigners arrested at the on-going demonstration outside Cuadrilla’s drilling site in Balcombe can return to the protest after successfully challenging “unlawful” bail conditions imposed by Sussex Police.
The eight men and six women had been prevented since their arrest in July from entering an exclusion zone of approximately 20 square miles, which included the exploration site at Lower Stumble.
At a hearing at Crawley Magistrates Court on Wednesday August 14th, Lydia Dagostino, representing 13 of the protestors, said the police had imposed a blanket ban on all people arrested at the site and had not taken individual circumstances into account. The bail conditions were therefore unlawful.
All 14 campaigners denied the charges against them. Frances Crack, 31, from Cardiff, Samantha Duncan, 29, from Brighton, Ezra Lynch, 31, from Lewes, Mark Mansbridge, 51, from Lewes, Richard Millar, 30, from Brighton, Justin Preece, 44, from Pontypridd, Nancy Walker, 25, from London, and Marcin Swiercz, 35, from London, were all charged under Section 241 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Consolidation Act for attempting to stop drivers and other workers from accessing the site on July 26th.
Marina Baker, 46, of Lewes, East Sussex, and Adriano Merola, 23, from Brighton, were charged with obstructing the highway on July 29th. Ben Lucas, 21, from Preston, and Rhonda Mathew, 61, from High Wycombe, were charged under Section 241 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Consolidation Act for attempting to stop drivers and other workers from accessing the site on July 29th.
Natalie Hynde, 30, of St Leonards on Sea, and Simon Medhurst, 55, from Hastings, were charged under Section 241 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Consolidation Act for attempting to stop drivers and other workers from accessing the site on July 31st.
PC Michael Wyborn, of Crawley Police, told the court he drew up the original exclusion zone. He said it was necessary to prevent the campaigners re-offending or inciting others to offend. At the hearing, he proposed a smaller exclusion zone, based on the boundary of the parish of Balcombe, which would continue to prevent the campaigners joining the protest outside the drilling site. He said between 250 and 3,000 additional people were expected to join the protest at the weekend when Reclaim the Power established a camp at Balcombe and the police had information there was potential for a mass protest organised for August 19th.
Miss Dagostino asked PC Wyborn if the boundary of the reduced exclusion zone was marked on the ground. PC Wyborn said it was not and he accepted that it would be hard for the defendants to be sure where the zone started. Miss Dagostino said the bail condition was “completely disproportionate” and interfered with the right of the campaigners to peacefully protest set out in articles 10 and 11 of the European Charter for Human Rights.
Supporters in the public gallery clapped and cheered as magistrate Michael Milne released all the defendants on unconditional bail. He said: “I do not believe the police have given us sufficient grounds that the defendants will commit further offences if they return to Balcombe.”
The case was adjourned until October 2nd for pre-trial review at Crawley Magistrates Court when a trial date will be set.