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Another Balcombe anti-fracking protest trial ends in acquittal

An anti-fracking protestor, whose case the police believed should not go to trial, was acquitted this morning (28/1/14) after less than two hours in court.

Aaron Bell, 26, of no fixed address, had denied obstructing a police officer outside Cuadrilla’s oil exploration site at Balcombe on August 12th last year.

District Judge William Ashworth, sitting at Brighton Magistrates Court, said “Is that it?” after watching a 90 second video clip filmed by a police evidence gathering team. He invited the prosecution to consider dropping the case in the public interest but it chose to continue the trial. Stephen Knight, defending, had earlier told the court that a police review had concluded that the case should not go ahead.

The video clip showed protestors walking in front of police who were escorting a lorry towards Cuadrilla’s site entrance. Mr Bell could be seen waving a black woollen blanket at the police camera.

The court heard evidence from PC Jim Botting, the camera operator, who said Mr Bell had deliberately tried to block his view of the crowd. He also alleged Mr Bell threatened to damage the camera. Mr Bell told the court he had used the blanket to prevent PC Botting filming his face. He denied the threat to the camera.

DJ Ashworth said PC Botting had been a credible witness but he did not believe Mr Bell’s account. “I think you were trying to pull the wool over my eyes”, he said. “You blocked off what PC Botting wished to see. But for most of the time it is very ineffectual. It is more an act of defiance than a concerted effort to obstruct officers.”

The judge said he could not be sure that Mr Bell’s actions were sufficient to amount to an obstruction. “In the circumstances”, he said, “you are entitled to be acquitted. I dismiss the charge against you and find you not guilty.”

At least 13 people arrested at the Balcombe protests have now been found not guilty. Last week, one person was found guilty of assaulting and obstructing a police officer and another of assaulting an officer. They were both conditionally discharged for 12 months.

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