First anti-fracking convictions following Balcombe protests against Cuadrilla

Six anti-fracking protestors who locked themselves to a fire engine outside Cuadrilla’s oil exploration site at Balcombe became the first people to be convicted following this summer’s protests. But a district judge at Crawley Magistrates Court today accepted they were acting according to their beliefs and conditionally discharged all but one of them.

The protestors were: Ian Freeston, 52, the director of a community interest company in Lewes, PhD student Deborah Grayson, 28, of Slough, and Londoners Lu Brown, 30, a paralegal, and Juliette Chard, 26, Tamsin Omond, 28, and Andrew Tobert, 29, all professional campaigners. All pleaded guilty to a charge of obstructing the highway at Balcombe on August 1st 2013.

Chris Bell, prosecuting, told the court that at 7am the group had used D-locks to secure themselves to the fire engine. Police asked them to leave and they refused. They were then cut free and arrested. When interviewed, all said no comment.

Teresa Blades, defending, said of the group: “They are all intelligent people who are very concerned about hydraulic fracturing. They felt they had to highlight it in this way. They are aware of the impact of the protests on public opinion. This is why they felt they needed to take action.”

She described how all six had an established interest in social and environmental campaigns. Miss Brown had been brought up in the United States and had seen the impact of hydraulic fracturing on the environment. Miss Grayson was researching how the media legitimised controversial issues. Miss Ormond and Miss Chard both worked for the campaigns department of Lush, which has been supporting opposition in Balcombe to Cuadrilla’s operation. Mr Tobert was employed at a design and marketing company which specialised in community campaigns. Mr Freestone was involved in the campaign in Lewes against hydraulic fracturing.

District Judge Ashworth said he had taken account of the guilty pleas in passing sentence. “You are all acting from a sense of conviction and I have seen from your backgrounds you are all people in your private and work lives who work for the community good. In the case of a majority of you there are no previous convictions.”

He fined Miss Ormond £200 and conditionally discharged the other five for between 12 and 18 months. All but Mr Freeston were ordered to pay costs of £85. A surcharge was also imposed of £20 on Miss Omond and £15 on the other protestors.

In a separate case, Hannah Smith, 30, of no fixed address, and May Mackeith, 28 of Oxford, were conditionally discharged after pleading guilty to obstructing the highway outside Cuadrilla’s site on September 23rd. The prosecution withdrew two other charges against the women.

The court heard that Miss Smith moved tyres into the road while other campaigners attempted to take a concrete block from the back of a van. Miss Mackeith climbed onto the top of the van.

Mr Stephen Knight, defending, said Miss Smith played a minor role in the protest. He said another campaigner who had had a bigger role had been cautioned, rather than charged. He said Miss Smith, an environmental sustainability officer, was of exemplary character, volunteering in her spare time with community groups and charities. He said Miss Mackeith worked part-time in environmental sustainability and volunteered two days a week with environmental and children’s charities.

District Judge Ashworth told both women there was much to commend about them and he did not need to punish them. Both were ordered to pay £85 costs and a £15 surcharge.

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