Two environmental campaigners, Timothy Harris and Kaity Squires, have been found guilty of assaulting police at last summer’s anti-fracking protests at Balcombe. They were both conditionally discharged for 12 months and each ordered to pay £300 costs. Another campaigner, Zachary Hewitt, was found not guilty on the same charge.
The verdicts came this afternoon (24/1/14) at the end of a three-day trial before District Judge William Ashworth sitting at Brighton Magistrates Court. Mr Harris, 29, of Crewkerne, Somerset, and Mr Hewitt, 23, of Bexhill-on-Sea, had denied assaulting PC Stephen Kimber outside Cuadrilla’s oil exploration site at Balcombe on August 2nd last year. Miss Squires, 20, of Portsmouth, had denied assaulting PC Mario Ciaramella on the same day. Mr Harris had also denied obstructing PC Kimber.
The events behind the case date from the ninth day of the Balcombe protests. Mr Hewitt had been carrying a placard in front of a convoy of police escorting a lorry into the site. A police evidence gathering team, including PC Kimber, pushed the placard away three times. Then, the prosecution alleged, Mr Hewitt deliberately hit PC Kimber on the mouth with the placard, causing a small cut to the inside of his officer’s lip. PC Kimber arrested Mr Hewitt, bringing him to the ground. Mr Harris and Miss Squires went to help Mr Hewitt. It was alleged that Mr Harris struck PC Kimber and that Miss Squires punched and kicked PC Ciaramella, who was assisting PC Kimber.
The defence case had been that PC Kimber had acted unlawfully in executing his duty by using unreasonable force in pushing the placard away from Mr Hewitt and in the way he made the arrest. The defence said Mr Harris did not know Mr Hewitt was being arrested and so was not guilty of obstruction. He was not guilty of assault because he believed PC Kimber was acting unlawfully. The defence also claimed that PC Ciaramella, in supporting PC Kimber’s unlawful arrest, had also acted unlawfully.
But Jonathan Edwards, prosecuting, said PC Kimber was entitled to arrest Mr Hewitt and when Mr Hewitt resisted that arrest, PC Kimber was entitled to use force. Mr Edwards said “It was a split second decision to take Mr Hewitt to the ground. The use of force was restrained and was therefore perfectly reasonable in these circumstances.”
DJ Ashworth said he did not believe the police had behaved unlawfully, nor had they used excessive force. He said Mr Harris had reacted with antagonism to the police and he was guilty of obstruction and assault. Miss Squires, he said, had lost her “sense of self-possession”. Of Mr Hewitt’s alleged assault on PC Kimber , he said: “I am not sure Mr Hewitt meant to hit PC Kimber and so I am required to acquit him.”
The Judge said: “It is a great sadness that what started as a peaceful protest on an environmental issue descended into a melee, dominated by aggression to the police.”
He told Mr Harris and Miss Squires “Your attendance at the protest is laudable. The court protects the right to free speech. You simply got carried away in the heat of the moment….The right to protest carries responsibility – and that is that you cannot overstep the mark.”