Balcombe anti-fracking protests cost Cuadrilla £2,500 an hour, court told


Cuadrilla’s drilling supervisor at its site at Balcombe told Brighton Magistrates Court this afternoon that delays caused by last summer’s protests cost the oil exploration company £2,500 an hour.

James Whitham was giving evidence on the first day of the trial of five environmental campaigners, including Natalie Hynde, the daughter of singers Chrissie Hynde and Ray Davies.

Miss Hynde, 31, of St Leonards-on-Sea, along with 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 while it was moving. Mr Spiers also denies an additional charge of obstructing the highway.

The court heard that the alleged offences related to four different days when campaigners attempted to delay lorries arriving and leaving Cuadrilla’s site at Balcombe.

Jonathan Edwards, prosecuting, said Miss Hynde and Mr Medhurst superglued their hands together around the main site gate on July 31st. Mr Basto locked his foot with a D-lock to the top of water tanker leaving the site on September 2nd. Miss Sanger handcuffed herself to the main site gate the following day and on September 5th Mr Spiers sat on a tripod which had been placed in the middle of the road outside the site.

Mr Whitham was asked how much the delays caused by the protests cost Cuadrilla. He said the company was spending £30,000 a day so delays amounted to £2,500 an hour. He said the action by Miss Hynde and Mr Medhurst had delayed operations by about two hours. He said because of delays, delivery lorries had to be held at Pease Pottage services on the M23 or on the motorway slip road at junction 10a, about 10 miles from Balcombe. Mr Whitham told the court Cuadrilla had scheduled between five and seven days to deliver and set up the drilling rig but the operation had actually taken 11 days.

He confirmed there was an alternative access road into the site that would have avoided the protests. But he said this was not suitable for large vehicles and had been used only once by staff to reach the site.

The court also heard evidence from PC Mark Morgan, the police officer who removed the superglue from Miss Hynde and Mr Medhurst and later arrested Mr Basto. Under cross-examination, he confirmed that it had taken only a small amount of acetone to remove the superglue. He also agreed that the water tanker had been stationary when Mr Basto climbed onto it.

PC Morgan, who was tactical advisor to the bronze commander on the day he arrested Mr Basto, described how he climbed onto the tanker and tried to release the campaigner’s foot from the D-lock by removing his shoe. Mr Basto, he said, pushed at him with his free foot and then tried to remove his hand.

Mr Basto, who was representing himself, put it to PC Morgan that, as tactical advisor, it was not his role to arrest campaigners. PC Morgan said he thought Mr Basto, having made his point, would come down from the lorry. When he did not, PC Morgan said he waited for the specialist protest removal team. When asked whether Mr Basto’s foot movement had hindered him, PC Morgan said it made him more cautious. He denied the suggestion that he had caused Mr Basto pain when he tried to remove the campaigner’s shoe.

The case continues tomorrow and is expected to last until Thursday.

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