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Anti-fracking demonstrator found guilty of assault – but cleared on resisting arrest

An environmental campaigner at the anti-fracking protests at Balcombe was found guilty this afternoon (29/1/14) of assaulting a police officer but was acquitted of resisting arrest.

Tony Jones, 24, of Hackney, London, was accused of pushing Sergeant Michael Howe in the chest on August 19th last year during the protests outside Cuadrilla’s oil exploration site. He was also accused of resisting PC John Wilson who tried to arrest him later that day. Mr Jones denied both offences.

Brighton Magistrates Court heard evidence from Sergeant Howe and a colleague, PC Peter Boxall, who were policing the protests on secondment from Devon and Cornwall Police. They described how demonstrators had built a barricade of bicycles across the road. Sergeant Howe said he became surrounded by demonstrators as he tried to find a way through the barricade. He said Mr Jones, who was wearing a distinctive green bandana covering his face, pushed him on the chest, causing him to lose his balance.

The court watched video footage filmed by an evidence gathering team which showed Mr Jones walking along the barricade near Sergeant Howe and the officer losing his balance. The footage did not, however, show who, if anyone, pushed Sergeant Howe.

The court heard that police identified Mr Jones later in the day and a unit from the Thames Valley force was instructed to arrest him. PC Wilson said Mr Jones tried to resist and had to be restrained on the ground by four officers. Under cross examination, PC Wilson rejected the suggestion that Mr Jones’ behaviour was consistent with that of someone who had four grown men pinning him down.

Michael Goode, defending, said Sergeant Howe could not have seen Mr Jones at the barricade because photographs showed he was looking the other way seconds before he lost his balance. Mr Jones told the court he was not aware that Sergeant Howe had been pushed. Of his arrest he said: “There was something behind me and the next thing I knew I was on the floor.” He said he suffered grazing to his knees and shoulders and a cut to his face.

District Judge William Ashworth told Mr Jones he did not believe his account of the events. “You were part of a group of a few people behind a bicycle barricade and you were intent on preventing the police from crossing. You were antagonistic to the police and twice on police video footage you are seen flipping your finger to the evidence gathering team.” Of the assault, he said: “I am quite sure it was you and it was a deliberate shove.”

But DJ Ashworth said he had to acquit Mr Jones of resisting PC Wilson. He said for an arrest to be lawful, a police officer had to be sure there were reasonable grounds for it. The judge said he was not sure PC Wilson had been given enough information about the reasons for the arrest of Mr Jones. “I cannot be sure PC Wilson was acting in the lawful execution of his duty.”

Mr Jones was required to do 40 hours of unpaid work under a Community Order of one year. He was also ordered to pay £300 costs and a victim’s surcharge of £60.

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