A police officer monitoring the crowds at last summer’s Balcombe anti-fracking protests told a court this afternoon (22/1/14) how he was punched in the chest by a young woman demonstrator.
PC Mario Ciaramella, usually based at Worthing Police Station, was giving evidence at the trial of three environmental campaigners at Brighton Magistrates Court. Zachary Hewitt, 23, from Bexhill-on-Sea, Timothy Harris, 29, of Crewkerne, Somerset, and Kaity Squires, 20, are charged with assaulting a police officer on August 2nd 2013. Mr Harris is also charged with obstructing a police officer on the same day. They all deny the charges.
PC Ciaramella told the court a crowd had gathered around police officers who were arresting Mr Hewitt. “I turned round and a female punched me in the chest. It was a clenched fist in my direction. I saw her throw a punch. I would say it was a deliberate act.”
The officer said he pushed her back and she then tried to kick him. He said he was wearing skin pads at the time and he didn’t feel the kick or see it.
PC Ciaramella said he then grabbed one of Miss Squire’s leg and told her she was under arrest. He said the crowd began to pull Miss Squire’s arm and there was a tug of war between them until more police arrived.
Michael Goold, for Miss Squires, put it to PC Ciaramella that there was no punch or attempted kick and that the officer had forcefully pushed Miss Squires out of the way. PC Ciaramella disagreed.
Mr Goold quoted PC Ciaramella’s comments to another officer, PC Hardy, that Miss Squires had punched him in the mouth. “The reason you said that to PC Hardy is because you fabricated it. That is why you cannot get your story straight.” PC Ciaramella disagreed.
The court then viewed a video of the moments before Miss Squires’ arrest, at both normal speed and slowed down. Mr Goode said the footage showed there was no punch to the chest and no clear contact between Miss Squires and PC Ciaramella. “It shows you violently reacting when she comes back at you.” PC Ciaramella disagreed and maintained that he had been punched by Miss Squires.
This morning, the court heard how Mr Hewitt was carrying a placard in front of a convoy of police escorting a lorry into the Cuadrilla drilling site. Jonathan Edwards, prosecuting, said Mr Hewitt had used the placard to block the view of a police camera operated by a video evidence team. Mr Edwards said a member of the team, PC Stephen Kimber, moved the placard out of the way. It is alleged that Mr Hewitt then approached PC Kimber and hit him on the mouth with the placard, causing a small cut.
Mr Edwards said a struggle followed and Mr Hewitt was arrested. The prosecution further alleges that Mr Harris intervened and tried to pull PC Kimber away. “Other officers went to assist and that is when Miss Squires assaulted PC Ciaramella”, Mr Edwards said.
This afternoon, the court also heard from PC Simon Barden, of Hastings police, who was working as a police liaison officer on the day of the incident. He said he saw a man make a deliberate striking movement towards PC Kimber and make contact with him.
“I was scared for PC Kimber”, he said. “Quite a large group of people had emerged. We were backed away from the main group of other police officers.” But he accepted there was a lot of pushing and shoving in the heat of the moment and no threats or violence had been made towards the police before Mr Hewitt’s arrest.
PC Thomas Duffy, of Uckfield police, was part of the police cordon. He said he saw a protestor on the ground kicking out and connecting with PC Kimber’s head.
“The crowd became aggressive because it was trying to rescue the male on the ground,” he said “They were pulling at him and pushing against us.”
Stephen Knight, for Mr Hewitt, said “It is my suggestion that Mr Hewitt never kicked out at PC Kimber’s head. PC Duffy said “All I saw was a gentleman kicking out at PC Kimber’s head.
Two more police officers are due to give evidence tomorrow (23/1/14), after which the defence is expected to present its case.