A group of environmental campaigners who used locks or superglue to block the entrance to Cuadrilla’s oil exploration site at Balcombe have gone on trial charged under an obscure piece of legislation designed to prevent secondary picketing.
Natalie Hynde, 31, of St Leonards-on-Sea, Simon Medhurst, 55, of Hastings, Robert Basto, 66, of Reigate, Nichola Sanger, 44, of Hurstpierpoint, and Jamie Spiers, 29 of no fixed address, were all charged under Section 241 of the Trades Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. They all deny the offences.
Mr Basto also denies further charges of obstructing the highway, obstructing PC Mark Morgan and getting onto an articulated lorry in motion. Mr Spiers also denies an additional charge of obstructing the highway.
Jonathan Edwards, prosecuting, said the charges related to four dates during the protests against Cuadrilla’s operations at Balcombe last summer. He said on July 31st Miss Hynde and Mr Medhurst superglued their hands together and Mr Medhurst had his arm through the main site gate. This prevented employees, contractors and suppliers getting in or out of the site. After the pair were removed, Mr Medhurst is alleged to have said “Great. Both of us managed to delay Cuadrilla for two hours.”
Mr Basto is alleged to have used a D-lock to secure himself to a water tanker leaving the site on 2nd September. Mr Edwards said a police officer attempted to remove Mr Basto’s boot so that his foot would fit through the lock. It is alleged that Mr Basto took hold of the officer’s fingers and threw the key for the D-lock into the trees alongside the road.
The following day, Miss Sanger is alleged to have padlocked herself to the main site gate and on September 5th it is alleged that Mr Spiers climbed a tripod set up on London Road outside the site, closing the road for about three hours.
District Judge William Ashworth, sitting at Brighton Magistrates Court, said: “This trial is all about freedom of expression and freedom to protest. It is about whether the protest took place in a lawful manner, not what it was about.”
The campaigners said in their defence statements that the charges against them were disproportionate and that they were seeking to persuade people not to go into the site, rather than compel them. They claimed Cuadrilla had no legal right to be at the site because of irregularities in its permissions and they all asserted their rights to freedom of assembly and expression under Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
Mr Basto said he had a reasonable cause to block to road and he claimed the vehicle he climbed onto was not moving. He said he had not obstructing PC Morgan. Instead, the officer had assaulted him. Mr Spiers said he had a reasonable cause to protest and it had not necessary to close the road because of his actions.
The court heard this morning from Leon Jennings, Leon Jennings, Cuadrilla’s health, safety and security director. He said the company had acquired a Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence, planning permission and a mining waste directive permit.
He said he was not on the site all the time but was kept informed by email and phone calls by the drilling supervisor, James Whitham, and the site health and safety advisor, Graham Scarisbrick. Mr Jennings said he could not give the court any information about what happened on July 31st but there had been delays caused by lock-ons on 2nd September and 3rd September. The defence advocates challenged his evidence as hearsay.
Cross-examined by Srikanatharajah Nereshraaj, for Miss Hynde and Mr Medhurst, Mr Jennings admitted that there was an alternative access to the site. It had been used once but the landowner was unhappy about it because it frightened pheasants in pens alongside the road.
The case continues this afternoon.