Padlock protest at Balcombe because government wasn’t listening – court hears


An anti-fracking campaigner padlocked herself to the gate into Cuadrilla’s oil exploration site at Balcombe because “the government wasn’t listening”.

Nichola Sanger, on trial for an alleged offence arising from last summer’s Balcombe protests, told the independent video company, You and I Films, that fracking was wrong and “just about money”. Her comments, made in September last year while she was locked to the gate, were turned into a short video and today it was shown in court.

She said on the video: “I have chosen this action because nobody’s listening. I’ve signed petitions. I’ve written to the EIA. I’ve been here peacefully protesting for the last six weeks or longer. You know, the government’s just not listening to its people. … Once they start drilling and fracking, once they start putting those chemicals down into the water table they cannot get them out. I don’t want to leave this mess for the next generation and I certainly don’t want to say I didn’t do anything to stop it.”

Miss Sanger, 44, of Hurstpierpoint, is charged under Section 241 of the Trades Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, along with Natalie Hynde, 31, of St Leonards-on-Sea, Simon Medhurst, 55, of Hastings, Robert Basto, 66, of Reigate, and Jamie Spiers, 29, of no fixed address. They all deny the offences.  Mr Spiers denies an additional charge of obstructing the highway. Mr Basto also denies further charges of obstructing the highway and obstructing PC Mark Morgan. A charge against him of getting onto an articulated lorry while it was moving was withdrawn by the prosecution.

This was the second day of what is likely to be a four-day trial. Miss Sanger’s video was shown as part of the prosecution case. Jonathan Edwards, for the crown, said it amounted to a confession because at one point, Miss Sanger said of her protest: “I don’t know whether that’s an arrestable offence or not. I would guess it probably is”.

Pamela Rose, for Miss Sanger, said the video was unreliable and potentially prejudicial evidence but District Judge, William Ashworth, sitting at Brighton Magistrates Court, overruled her objection, saying: “It shows a very dignified explanation by Miss Sanger. She can tell me about it when she gives evidence. I don’t see any prejudice in it. It may be of assistance to Miss Sanger.”

The court heard that the charges facing the five campaigners related to four dates during the protests, beginning on July 31st, when Miss Hynde and Mr Medhurst superglued their hands together around the main site gate. Mr Basto used a D-lock to secure himself to a water tanker leaving the site on 2nd September. The following day, Miss Sanger padlocked herself to the site gate and on September 5th Mr Spiers locked himself to a tripod on London Road.

Jonathan Edwards, prosecuting, said the protests caused delays for Cuadrilla and increased its costs. Gordon Matheson-Dolphin, the driver of the tanker which was delayed when Mr Basto climbed on the roof, said in a statement: “it was a horrible situation to be in” and the delay “will cost Cuadrilla extra every hour I am here.”

Sergeant Mark Redbourn, a police liaison officer, described how Mr Spiers used a bicycle lock to secure himself to the top of the tripod and then super-glued his hands to the poles. Sgt Redbourn said “In my opinion no vehicle could pass safely”. But PC Andrew Price told the court how he and another officer directed traffic around the tripod. It was only when a car drove through too fast that they decided it was no longer safe and closed the road. The officers said vehicles were turned around, apart from a bus which had a faulty reverse gear.

The case continues tomorrow, when District Judge Ashworth will rule on a defence submission that there is no case to answer. See for report on the defence submission.

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