Police held Balcombe campaigner in headlock – court hears

An environmental campaigner described this morning (23/1/14) how a police officer held him in a headlock during a struggle at the anti-fracking protests at Balcombe.

Zachary Hewitt was giving evidence at his trial at Brighton Magistrates Court. Mr Hewitt, 23, of Bexhill-on-sea, is accused along with another campaigner, Timothy Harris, 29, of Crewkerne, Somerset of assaulting PC Stephen Kimber at Balcombe on August 2nd last year. Mr Harris is also accused of obstructing PC Kimber. A third campaigner, Kaity Squires, 20, of Portsmouth, is accused of assaulting PC Ciaramella on the same day. All three deny all the offences.

Earlier, the court had heard how the campaigners were part of an ongoing protest against Cuadrilla’s oil exploration site at Balcombe. Demonstrators were attempting to slow down lorries delivering equipment to the site.

Mr Hewitt told the court that when a convoy of police escorted a lorry towards the site entrance he held up a placard of a rural scene and a stag. He said he wanted the police and the lorry driver to see what could be destroyed by fracking.

Mr Hewitt said two members of a police evidence gathering team at the front of the cordon struck his placard. One of team, PC Stephen Kimber “started throwing his arms at me”, Mr Hewitt said.

“I was pretty worried…He [PC Kimber] was angry. It looked like he wanted to harm me in all honesty. He got me round the neck and upper body. He started to swing me around. He brought me to the ground. I tried to get back up. He got me by the neck.”

Mr Hewitt said the officer’s actions were “pretty suffocating, pretty claustrophobic”. He said: “I was in a lot of pain on my left hand site. I felt pretty vulnerable and scared. It all happened pretty fast. I didn’t think I had done anything wrong.“

Mr Hewitt described police behaviour that day as intimidating and aggressive but he denied intending to hit the police officer or resist arrest. “I was not using it [the placard] as an offensive weapon. There was no anger to the police.” He said when the police pushed his placard he held it back up and tried to find another position from which to protest.

Jonathan Edwards, prosecuting, put it to Mr Hewitt: “You were not in the mood to comply. You chose to defy him [PC Kimber].” Mr Hewitt denied he had pushed the placard back at police.

Earlier this morning, the court heard evidence from a number of police officers on duty on the day of the incident. The case continues this afternoon when Mr Harris and Miss Squires are expected to give evidence.

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