The first trial arising from protests outside Cuadrilla’s oil exploration site at Balcombe collapsed within an hour when the judge questioned whether an offence had been committed.
District Judge Peter Crabtree invited the prosecution to drop the case at Brighton Magistrates Court this morning (25/11/13) after hearing evidence from one police officer and viewing a four-minute video.
The prosecution alleged the protester had wilfully obstructed the highway on July 27th during a demonstration against Cuadrilla’s operation at Balcombe. She denied the offence.
PC Simon Marchant told the court the protester had walked in front of a lorry delivering equipment to Cuadrilla and was arrested when she sat down in the site entrance. But after the court saw a video of her arrest, Judge Crabtree questioned whether guidelines set by the Crown Prosecution Service on prosecuting protests had been followed.
These state that a prosecution was more likely to be required when protests were violent and there was significant disruption to the public and businesses. Prosecutions were less likely to be in the public interest when a protest was essentially peaceful, the suspect had a minor role and the act was committed in the heat of the moment or was minor.
District Judge Crabtree said it had been “an extremely short period of time” before Miss Tarr was arrested in the site entrance and he questioned how much disturbance she had caused. “I rather wonder, technically, whether there was an offence. I invite the Crown to consider whether they wish to pursue the prosecution, given the nature of the guidelines and the nature of this case.”
After an adjournment, Jonathan Edwards, prosecuting, said it would not be in the public interest to continue the trial. Shahida Begum, defending, asked for costs from central funds to be awarded to the protester.
This was the first of more than 20 trials involving 70 Balcombe anti-fracking campaigners which will take place at courts in Brighton, Crawley and Horsham over the next five months.