The police gave no warning when they made their first arrest at the Balcombe anti-fracking protest, the trial of eleven campaigners heard this afternoon (8/1/14).
Countryside management student Samantha Duncan told Brighton Magistrates Court she was taking part in the protest on its second day, July 26th last year. She said she had no conversations with police protest liaison officers about obstructing the highway or the need for access for emergency vehicles. She said there were no warnings from the police that campaigners would be arrested.
Miss Duncan and ten other campaigners have pleaded not guilty to obstructing the highway at London Road, Balcombe, by sitting on a log placed across the entrance to Cuadrilla’s oil exploration site. One of the campaigners, Michael Atkins also denies assaulting PC Charlotte Pittman by spilling tea on her on the same day.
Giving evidence, Miss Duncan said she sat on the log to drink a cup of tea with Mr Atkins. “I was using the log as a nice place to sit. It was quite a nice photo opportunity, with the banners in the background.”
About 10 minutes after sitting down, Miss Duncan said she felt hands behind her on her arms and heard someone say “Why are you arresting her?” Miss Duncan said “I looked around to see who was being arrested and realised it was me.”
She said she felt pain because fingers were pressing into her muscles and yelled out twice. “I asked why I was arrested. I immediately told people to let go because I didn’t want people being arrested for holding on to me.”
Before the arrest, Miss Duncan described the protest as “jolly, quite relaxed, a nice protest.” She said she had attended to express her opinion about fracking and during the morning she had spoken to a couple of journalists. She said she believed the road had been closed to allow resurfacing work to be carried out.
The trial also heard evidence from Mr Atkins, who described what happened when police arrested Miss Duncan. He told the court “They were quite physical in their approach which led to all the people around being jostled, pushed and shoved.”
He said he held up the cup of tea in his hand so that it could be seen clearly and shouted a warning that it was hot. He denied that he deliberately spilt tea on PC Pittman and said that it also spilled over himself and the people next to him.
Shahida Begum, representing Mr Atkins, asked him about his reaction when he was arrested for assaulting a police officer. “I was surprised and concerned at what had happened”, he said. “I thought this is very serious.”
Mr Atkins said he never heard a police warning about arrests and he had not intended to obstruct the entrance.
The last witness of the day was Frances Crack, a media studies student from Cardiff and founder of the group Frack-Free Wales. She said she had been researching fracking for two years but this was her first environmental protest. She said she was taking part to protest about fracking and what she believed was a conflict of interest by Francis Maude for appointing the Cuadrilla chairman, Lord Browne, to the cabinet office. “Call me an optimist”, she said “but I was hoping the government would change their mind.”
Miss Crack said at some point between 8.30 and 9.30am a uniformed police officer told her that London Road was closed to traffic. “There were children playing tennis in the road. They were playing hopscotch at one point”, she said.
She said she didn’t hear any police warnings and did not think the log was blocking the site entrance. “There was room to get round. I do not think it was obstructing the highway. I will never accept that.” She also said one of the campaigners had mentioned there was another entrance to the site.
Miss Crack was the last person to be arrested from the log and she explained why she had remained there when other people were being removed. “I have a right to protest under Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights and I am stubborn.” She said she was very upset when she was arrested. “They were taking people away for no reason, it seemed. The police officer who put me in the van said ‘I am very sorry to do this.’” Under cross-examination by Jonathan Edwards, prosecuting, Miss Duncan said “I was so angry. My protest turned into a protest against the police”.
The case continues tomorrow (9/1/14).