The trial got underway this morning (7/1/14) of the first group of campaigners arrested at anti-fracking protests in Balcombe last year.
Three women and eight men are charged with obstructing the highway outside Cuadrilla’s oil exploration site on July 26th. They all deny the charge.
The case is being heard by District Judge William Ashworth at Brighton Magistrates Court and is expected to last most of the week.
The campaigners on trial are: Ian Freeston and Mark Mansbridge, both 52 and from Lewes; Samantha Duncan and Richard Millar, both 30 and from Brighton; Nancy Walker, 25, of London; Paul Deacon, 50, of St Jean du Gare, France; Frances Crack, 31, of Cardiff; Justin Preece, 44, of Pontypridd; Michael Atkins, 37, of Bristol; Ezra Lynch, 31, of no fixed address; and Marcin Swiercz, 36. Mr Atkins is also charged with assaulting a police officer in the execution of her duty on the same date. He denies the charge.
District Judge Ashworth explained that the case concerned whether the action of the campaigners constituted obstruction, whether their behaviour was reasonable and whether the action of the police in arresting them was lawful and proportionate.
A packed public gallery heard Jonathan Edwards, prosecuting, allege that at about 7.30am on July 26th a log was dragged from the side of London Road in Balcombe and placed across the turning into the Cuadrilla site. He said a large number of protestors sat on or near the log. Mr Edwards said 30 minutes before the first arrests were made, the police asked the protestors to leave. Some moved away to the side of the verge. Those that remained were spoken to by police protest liaison officers. Those that refused to move voluntarily were moved by police and taken into custody.
The court watched in silence while the prosecution showed a series of films. The first, a two-minute video recorded from inside the Cuadrilla site, showed, according to the prosecution, a log being moved across the site entrance. Longer videos, filmed by the police evidence gatherer, showed arrests and police warnings that the campaigners were breaching Section 241 of the Trades Union and Labour Relations Consolidation Act, the offence with which they were first charged.
This afternoon, the court is due to hear from Chief Inspector Webb, of Sussex Police, who, as bronze commander on the day, was in overall command of the policing operation. Mr Edwards said Chief Inspector Webb was responsible for determining when arrests should be made and for what.
The case continues this afternoon.