19th March 2014
Brighton Magistrates Court heard this morning how poet Simon Welsh was arrested at the Balcombe anti-fracking demonstrations, while leading a group of singers in the Balcombe anthem. This was a protest song written by Mr Welsh and sung to the tune of Jerusalem.
Mr Walsh, 34, of High Street, Balcombe, was the first villager to be arrested outside Cuadrilla’s oil exploration site. He denies failing to comply with a condition imposed under the Section 14 of the Public Order Act.
Yesterday the former Chief Constable of Sussex, Martin Richards, explained how he signed a notice under the Public Order Act, designating a protest area at Balcombe. This came into force on September 10th, the day Mr Welsh was arrested. The protest area was a cordoned off section of 30 metres of verge on the B2306.
This morning, Sergeant Mark Redbourne, a protest liaison officer, described how a group of 30-40 people were singing next to the site gate, led my Mr Welsh. He said he told Mr Welsh about the Section 14 notice, to which Mr Welsh replied “Mark I am just here to sing”. But under cross-examination by Tom Wainwright, defending, Sergeant Redbourne agreed that he had not made a statement about the event until nearly two months later. He said he remembered having a conversation with Mr Welsh, if not the exact words.
Earlier, the court heard from PC Lee Middlebrook, who arrested Mr Welsh. He said he explained that Mr Welsh must move to the designated protest area to which Mr Welsh smiled, laughed and continued singing and dancing. PC Middlebrook said he didn’t know what Mr Welsh was singing and he denied other people were singing with him. He said he repeated his warning and asked “Is there anything I can reasonably do to get you to comply with my request?” Mr Welsh continued to sing and dance, he said. “I had no other option but to arrest Mr Welsh.”
PC MIddlebrook claimed that after his arrest, Mr Welsh “flailed his arms around” and there was “lots and lots of shouting”. Mr Wainwright questioned whether this happened and showed a video from the scene which showed Mr Welsh walking to a police van. PC Middlebrook said the arm flailing had happened earlier.
The acting Chief Inspector at the protest on September 10th also gave evidence this morning. Rosie Ross described how she used a loud hailer to tell the demonstrators about the conditions of Section 14 notice. She confirmed that she did not review the need for the notice that day.
On a piece of video footage, Chief Inspector Ross pointed out that the designated protest area was on the other side of the road from Cuadrilla’s site entrance but further south, beyond the police command vehicle.
The case continues this afternoon.