19th March 2014
The judge at the trial of Simon Welsh, the Balcombe poet arrested at an anti-fracking demonstration while singing a protest song, has retired to consider whether to dismiss the case halfway through. Defence barrister, Tom Wainwright argued there was no case to answer because the charge was flawed.
Mr Welsh, 34, of High Street, Balcombe, denies he failed to comply with a condition imposed by the Chief Constable of Sussex, Martin Richards, under Section 14 of the Public Order Act. It was issued on September 10th last year and required demonstrators protesting against Cuadrilla’s oil exploration operation in Balcombe to move to a designated area of grass verge on the road near the site.
The court heard earlier that on the day the notice was issued, Mr Welsh was leading a group of singers in the Balcombe Anthem, an anti-fracking song he wrote to the tune of Jerusalem. The group was standing next to the gate into the Cuadrilla site. At about 10am, Chief Inspector Rosie Ross used a megaphone to tell demonstrators about the condition in the Section 14 notice. About 15 minutes later, Mr Welsh was arrested.
Mr Wainwright argued that the notice was flawed because it should have been issued to demonstrators by the Chief Constable, not Chief Inspector Ross. If the notice was flawed, then the charge against Mr Welsh was also flawed. District Judge Peter Crabtree, sitting at Brighton Magistrates Court, said he would consider the issue overnight.
Earlier this afternoon, PC Ross Longland, a member of a three-officer arrest team, said Mr Welsh had been asked to move into the designated protest area. He accepted that Mr Welsh was singing into a loud hailer at the time. PC Longland said he heard another member of the team, PC Lee Middlebrook, arrest Mr Welsh. The whole incident took between one and two minutes, he said.
The third police officer, PC Paul Harris, confirmed that Mr Welsh was singing with “a fair few” protesters, contradicting PC Middlebrook. When asked by Mr Wainwright if Mr Welsh had “flailing arms” (an observation made by PC Middlebrook), he said “We held his arms”.
Jonathan Edwards, prosecuting, presented a written statement by DC Daniel Richardson, which said Mr Welsh answered no comment to questions in an interview at Crawley Police Station but he wrote a poem explaining why he did not comply with the police notice.
The case continues tomorrow.