Charges brought under trades union legislation against two anti-fracking campaigners were dropped this morning before they gave evidence in court.
Robert Basto, 66, of Reigate, and Jamie Spiers, 29, of no fixed address, had denied besetting Cuadrilla’s staff, contractors and suppliers at its oil exploration site at Balcombe. The case was brought under Section 241 of the Trades Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.
At the end of the prosecution evidence, District Judge William Ashworth said there was no case to answer and dismissed the charge against them. The court had heard earlier how Mr Basto had locked himself onto the top of a water tanker that had left the Cuadrilla site on September 2nd. Three days later, Mr Spiers locked himself to a tripod made from scaffolding poles that had been erected on the road leading to the site.
DJ Ashworth told Brighton Magistrates Court that to make a case under Section 241, the prosecution had to show some proximity to the individuals allegedly being beset. He said: “It causes me some problems with Mr Basto and Mr Spiers because they were not physically in proximity to the workforce. I would never become sure that your activities amounted to besetting. There is no case to answer.”
Three other campaigners, Natalie Hynde, 31, of St Leonards-on-Sea, Simon Medhurst, 55, of Hastings, and Nichola Sanger 44, of Hurstpierpoint, also deny Section 241 offences and their cases are to continue. 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 dropped this morning.
The defence case for Miss Sanger, an environmental scientist and support worker, began this morning. She told the court how she had handcuffed herself to the site gate at just after 5am on September 3rd. She said her action was a symbolic gesture, reflecting the “Lock the Gate” campaign used in Australia against hydraulic fracturing. Her intention, she said, was to raise awareness of the dangers of the drilling technique.
She said police and an unidentified G4S security guard, contracted by Cuadrilla, tried to remove the handcuffs with bolt cutters, hurting her wrist. During that time, she said, the only words spoken to her were: “Oh dear, what have we got here”. Miss Sanger was released within an hour. She said she had the key to the handcuffs in her car but no one asked her for it. She said pedestrians could enter the site, even while she was locked to the gate, and she believed lorries did not arrive at the site until 9am.
The court heard that Miss Sanger had campaigned against fracking for two years, signing petitions and attending demonstrations and marches. She said she and 650 other people asked questions of the Environmental Agency about a permit for Cuadrilla’s activities at Balcombe. “The next day it gave permission for drilling. They could not have read 650 enquiries. It felt like we were being steam rollered.”
Mr Basto is to give evidence this afternoon.