24th February 2014
Anti-fracking protesters, Natalie Hynde and Simon Medhurst, were found guilty today under an obscure piece of trades union legislation after supergluing themselves around the gate to Cuadrilla’s Balcombe oil exploration site.
Miss Hynde, the daughter of singers Chrissie Hynde and Ray Davies, and Mr Medhurst, were convicted of besetting Cuadrilla’s staff, contractors and suppliers on July 31st under Section 241 of the Trades Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act. They both denied the charge.
Brighton Magistrates Court heard that Miss Hynde, 31, of St Leonards-on-Sea, had wanted to create a striking and symbolic gesture that would attract media attention and raise awareness about fracking. It was not her intention, she said, to obstruct the site. Mr Medhurst, 55, of Hastings, a veteran of environmental campaigns, said he wanted to attract as much attention as possible.
But Jonathan Edwards, prosecuting, said their action had caused two hours of delays in deliveries to Cuadrilla and cost the company £5,000. “They were preventing access and egress. Their motive was irrelevant.”
District Judge William Ashworth said “I am sure you did beset the Cuadrilla site by locking yourselves around the gate. Your intention was to slow the trucks. This went beyond what was reasonable for freedom of speech.”
Miss Hynde was given a 12-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay costs of £400. She admitted a charge of trespassing on the railway line and received another 12-month conditional discharge, to run concurrently. Mr Medhurst was fined £200 and ordered to pay £200 costs.
Nichola Sanger, another campaigner, who was also charged under Section 241, was found not guilty. The court had heard that she handcuffed herself to the site gate at about 5.20 on the morning of September 3rd last year. She was cut free by police and a Cuadrilla security guard after about 15 minutes. District Judge Ashworth said he had agonised about her case. “It was somewhat ham-fisted”, he said. “Little if any impact took place.” He dismissed the case and ordered that she be acquitted.
Earlier in the trial, two other Section 241 charges had been dropped against Robert Basto, 66, of Reigate, and Jamie Spiers, 29, of no fixed address, when Judge Ashworth ruled there was no case to answer. A further charge against Dr Basto of getting onto to a vehicle when it was moving was also dropped.
Dr Basto, who represented himself in court, climbed onto a water tanker that was leaving the Cuadrilla site and locked his foot to the top. He denied charges of obstructing the highway and obstructing PC Mark Morgan on September 2nd. Today, Dr Basto caused people in the public gallery to wipe away tears when he said “I am exercising my right to freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is a safety valve. It is the life blood of democracy. Is it right to criminalise people for standing up for what they believe in?”
Judge Ashworth told Mr Basto: “You have a very good understanding of the law and a you are a very good advocate”. But he said “You obstructed the B2036 because you caused the lorry to sit there for two to three hours.”
Dr Basto was found guilty of obstructing the highway but cleared of obstructing PC Morgan. He was fined £200 and ordered to pay costs of £400.
Mr Spiers, who was also charged with obstructing the highway on September 5th, failed to attend court today. His case was adjourned to a date to be fixed.