Balcombe trial hears how protest turned chaotic after arrests

The trial of the first environmental campaigners arrested outside Cuadrilla’s drilling site at Balcombe heard this morning (8/1/14) how a peaceful protest became chaotic as police began arresting people.

Eleven campaigners deny obstructing the highway on July 26th last year by sitting on a log in the entrance to the drilling site. One of them also denies assaulting a police officer on the same day by splashing her with tea.

Jonathan Edwards, prosecuting, read statements made by two campaigners to police at Crawley Police Station after their arrests.

Mark Mansbridge, who was interviewed at 00.45am on July 27th, about 12 hours after his arrest, told police he had travelled to the protest from his home in Lewes because he was curious and concerned about Cuadrilla’s operation at Balcombe. He said he arrived there about half an hour before he was arrested. He said the protest was passive and there were lots of families with children who had walked down from the village.

Mr Mansbridge said “I was told something was about to happen. A lot of police officers were walking down the road. People sprang into action. Lots of people sat on the verge in the gateway of the Cuadrilla site. People were squashed up on the log and I sat in front of it and linked arms.” He said “I found myself in the thick of it.”

He said “There were quite a lot of press – about as many press as police officers”, including a reporter from the BBC who interviewed him.

Mr Mansbridge described how a policewoman came over to the log and tried to talk to the campaigners but couldn’t be heard by everyone because of the noise of the protest. “There was a police inspector but I think he was being shouted down.” Mr Mansbridge said he comforted one campaigner sitting next to him who was “crying her eyes out”. There was also puzzlement, he said, when police said campaigners would be arrested under trades union legislation.

Mr Mansbridge said police officers began working their way along the log, removing individual campaigners. He described his own arrest as ambiguous. He said he told a police officer “I would like to sit here as long as I can and he [the police officer] said I am arresting you. There was no discussion.”

The trial also heard a statement made by Michael Atkins, the campaigner charged with assaulting a police officer, as well as obstructing the highway. He said he was on the log drinking a cup of tea when police approached him. “There was a lot of pushing and shoving. I was very concerned because I had a hot of cup of tea.” Yesterday, the prosecution alleged that Mr Atkins deliberately splashed tea on PC Charlotte Pittman, one of the officers policing the protest.

In his statement, Mr Atkins said “I didn’t know what to do about it [the tea]. I just held it up. I was concerned for everyone there, including the police officer. I tried to make myself very clear and that is why I held it up. It was not my intention to harm anyone or the police officer.”

The trial heard statements about the closure of London Road in Balcombe on the day of the protest. Darren Pring, a street works officer with West Sussex County Council, wrote that London Road was blocked for resurfacing work from 8am and 4pm on 22-26th July, including the area outside Cuadrilla’s drilling site.

Sergeant Neil Walker, a traffic officer with Sussex Police, made statements that there were road closure signs in place north and south of the site when he visited at 11am on July 26th.

The case resumes this afternoon.

4 replies »

  1. It seems a little one sided, asking protesters whether they were obstructing or not is most likely to be answered as “of course, not”, this is exactly what every protest wants – grounds for more action. I would like to hear more statements from police officers and who was monitoring the protest independently and Cuadrilla reps who most likely did try to speak to them peacefully .

    • Hi thanks very much for your post. And thanks for following my blog.
      The trial heard from evidence from police officers on Day 1 (7/1/14). Here’s the link to a post about what they said:
      Hope that helps, Ruth

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