12th March 2014
An anti-fracking activist who climbed a 6m scaffolding tripod to block the road outside Cuadrilla’s oil exploration site at Balcombe was found guilty of obstructing the highway this afternoon.
But the judge imposed the minimum penalty after hearing that Jamie Spiers had given up the chance of a career racing power boats to join the campaign against hydraulic fracturing.
Mr Spiers, 29, of no fixed address, told Chichester Magistrates Court he climbed the tripod to generate publicity because the media had said the protest camp against fracking at Balcombe was over.
At an earlier hearing, the court heard how Mr Spiers set up the tripod across the centre line of the London Road at about 8.30am on September 5th. He chained himself to the tripod and tried to glue his hands to the poles.
The prosecution said two police officers initially directed north-bound traffic around the tripod. But when a car went through too fast they decided to shut the road. It remained closed for three hours until a specialist police unit removed Mr Spiers from the tripod.
Mr Spiers, who denied the obstruction charge, argued that the road could have stayed open. He said he wanted to stop delivery lorries reaching the site but didn’t want to block vans and cars using the road.
He described how he had arrived at the camp in August and planned to stay a couple of nights. But he never went back. “I walked away from everything in my life. I had the opportunity to follow a career in off-shore power boat racing and I dropped all that to protect the countryside and water. We have only one world and I felt it was time to look after it for future generations, rather than leaving a trail of destruction.”
Stephen Knight, defending, said the case centred on whether Mr Spiers’ action was a reasonable way for him to exercise his freedom of speech, protected under Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
“It is fundamental in any functioning democracy that courts protect the freedoms of individuals that become before them”, he said. “If a protest causes no disruption it might as well not occur.”
District Judge William Ashworth disagreed, saying “I am sure it was not reasonable to block the road for so long in such circumstances.” He said he believed the prosecution was a reasonable and proportional response. But he told Mr Spiers “I acknowledge that you gave up your work and livelihood to follow this protest and imposing a financial penalty would be too onerous.”
Mr Spiers was given a conditional discharge of 12 months and ordered to pay costs of £300 and a victim surcharge of £15. A charge of besetting Cuadrilla’s staff, suppliers and contractors under section 241 of the Trades Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act was dismissed last month when Judge Ashworth ruled there was no case to answer.