A climate change campaigner locked himself to the top of a water tanker leaving Cuadrilla’s oil exploration site at Balcombe to persuade the media that the anti-fracking protests were not petering out.
66-year old Robert Basto, who has a PhD in physics, told Brighton Magistrates Court that when the temporary Reclaim the Power camp left Balcombe the media suggested that the protest against Cuadrilla’s operation was ending. He showed a headline from the Daily Mail of August 21st last year which said: “Fracking protestors finally give up”. Something dramatic was needed, he said, to get the media’s attention.
Dr Basto, from Redhill, is on trial for obstructing PC Mark Morgan and obstructing the highway. He denies the charges. A charge against him of besetting Cuadrilla’s staff, contractors and suppliers, brought under Section 241 of the Trades Union and Labour Relations Act, was dropped this morning when District Judge William Ashworth ruled there was no case to answer. A further charge of climbing onto a vehicle while it was moving was also dropped.
Dr Basto represented himself in court. He said his action was motivated by the contribution of fracking to climate change. He had done research on the earth’s atmosphere in the 1970s and in 2000 became very concerned about climate change. He told the court it was misleading to claim that shale gas produced less CO2 than coal. It had, he said, “huge fugitive emissions” and required a lot of transport. Dr Basto had set up Sustainable Redhill, joined Friends of the Earth, written to MPs and listened to the arguments. But he said “We are running out of time” [on climate change]. “We cannot go on at this mediocre pace. This is why I am so concerned and why I am prepared to step out of line”.
The court heard that he saw an opportunity to raise the profile of the protests on September 2nd when the BBC was filming at Balcombe. Dr Basto said a water tanker left the site and stopped in front of where he was standing. “I walked up to the truck, climbed up the ladder and sat down.” Someone had given him a D-lock and he secured his foot to the top of the tanker, throwing the key into trees nearby. The action was successful, Dr Basto said, because he appeared on BBC News and made the front page of the local paper, the Mid Sussex Times.
Dr Basto said PC Morgan, a police tactical advisor, climbed the ladder and tried to release his foot from the lock by unlacing his boot. “I got quite concerned,” Dr Basto said. “I said you should not be doing this. This is dangerous. You should wait for the protest removal team who have proper equipment.”
PC Morgan had earlier said he was hindered by Dr Basto, who pushing his foot out towards him. It was also claimed that Dr Basto pulled the officer’s hands away. Dr Basto denied both allegations, claiming instead that it was his hands that were pulled away by the officer. Paddy Horne, a legal observer, and Hytham Chlouk, who was making a video, gave evidence that Dr Basto did not make any gesture that would hinder PC Morgan.
On the charge of obstructing the highway, Dr Basto said the road was closed when he climbed onto the lorry and remained closed until after he was released. “There was no need for the police to close the road”, he said. He said he hadn’t intended to disrupt traffic. “Some people have a few minutes added to their journey. This is an important message that needs to be conveyed.”
Earlier today, District Judge Ashworth, ordered that a Section 241 charge against Jamie Spiers, 29, of no fixed address, should be dropped because there was no case to answer. Mr Spiers faces an additional charge of obstructing the highway, which he denies. Section 241 charges against three other campaigners, Natalie Hynde, 31, of St Leonards-on-Sea, Simon Medhurst, 55, of Hastings, and Nichola Sanger 44, of Hurstpierpoint, are to continue. They deny the allegations.
The case against all five was adjourned until February 24th.
Reports from the trial:
Tuesday January 11th – morning evidence
Tuesday January 11th – afternoon evidence
Wednesday January 12th – evidence
Wednesday January 12th – Trades Union and Labour Relations Act
Thursday January 13th – charges dropped