March 20th 2014
Simon Welsh, the poet arrested for singing outside the gate of Cuadrilla’s oil exploration site in Balcombe, explained in verse this afternoon why he thought he had done nothing wrong.
Mr Welsh, 34, of High Street, Balcombe, went into the witness box at Brighton Magistrates Court and recited an emotional poem he had written while in custody. It explained how he saw the police as brothers and that he had no intention of getting into trouble
They say I was arrested for ignoring what they said. But that was not what happened in my heart or in my head.
(See bottom of this post for the full poem)
Mr Welsh, 34 of High Street, Balcombe, denies he failed to comply with a condition imposed by the then Chief Constable of Sussex, Martin Richards, under Section 14 of the Public Order Act. This required demonstrators at the anti-fracking protests to stand in a designated area on a 30m stretch of grass verge on the other side of the road from Cuadrilla’s site. The condition came into force on September 10th, the day Mr Welsh was arrested, and lasted until September 28th when Cuadrilla left Balcombe.
In replies to his barrister, Tom Wainwright, Mr Welsh explained that there had been rumours the day before that West Sussex County Council was preparing to evict the protest camp that had become established on the road alongside the site. On September 10th, Mr Welsh arrived outside the site at about 8am. He said there were a group of bailiffs who looked as if “they were ready for action”. He said “Everyone was on edge and unhappy. I wanted to go home.”
Mr Welsh said he spoke to one of the protest liaison officers, Police Sergeant Mark Redbourne, who asked him if was aware that there was a Section 14 order in place. “Initially I thought he was telling me that I was in the process of breaking the law and I said ‘I am just here to sing.’ To my memory he smiled. He said ‘You are not going to cause any trouble’ and I said ‘No’.”
The court heard how Chief Inspector Rosie Ross made an announcement over a tannoy about the Section 14 notice. Mr Welsh said “I didn’t hear anything she said. I was at the back of the crowd in conversation with Mark. There was a huge eruption of noise.”
Mr Welsh said he had arranged events called Belt it Out at Balcombe, where villages had gathered outside the site to sing anti-fracking songs. On the day of his arrest, he had been encouraged by another villager, Charles Metcalfe, to sing some of these songs. “I thought this [singing] is all I have got.” While he was singing, he was aware of three people arriving but he didn’t stop. As soon as the song finished, he was arrested by PC Lee Middlebrook, accompanied by two other officers.
On the first day of the trial, PC Middlebrook had said Mr Welsh flailed his arms when he was arrested. When this was put to Mr Welsh, he said “I found that fantastical. One [officer] held each arm down. There was nothing I could do.” After his arrest, Mr Welsh answered no comment on legal advice in his police interview. But during his time in custody he wrote the poem and submitted it as a statement.
Mr Welsh told the court he didn’t think he had done anything wrong. “I didn’t get into the road, I didn’t get in the way of the lorries. I hadn’t been antagonistic.” He said: “I had not been an activist before. I did not have a script. I saw them [the police] as allies unless it was shown to be otherwise and it was not shown.”
Cross examined by Jonathan Edwards, prosecuting, Mr Welsh explained that he had written a Facebook post inviting people to Balcombe on September 10th because he’d heard that bailiffs were expected to dismantle the camp. Asked by Mr Edwards what his intention was that day, Mr Welsh said: “My role was to help people with pots and kettles and paperwork, putting it into vans to stop it being taken away by the bailiffs.”
Mr Edwards referred to the video where Mr Welsh was seen laughing with PC Redbourne. “You looked relaxed”, Mr Edwards said. “That was a welcome break”, Mr Welsh said. “Beneath that there was terror.” He described the scene as being “incredibly loud. It was immense. It was over-powering.”
Mr Welsh said he hadn’t seen the conditions of the Section 14 notice but understood it applied to the road. “My real focus was to keep out of the road and I was doing that very successfully”. Mr Edwards put it him: “You chose to ignore the police by continuing to sing”. Mr Welsh replied “I did not ignore the officers.” When asked by Mr Edwards why he didn’t stop, he said “I didn’t feel I could have stopped singing.” When Mr Edwards asked why he did not comply with the officers’ instructions, Mr Welsh said: “They didn’t give me an opportunity to say whether I heard them.” If he had heard them he said he would have “become like a five-year-old boy and run across the road to comply with what they were saying.”
The court also heard from Balcombe resident, Helen Savage. She described the Belt it Out At Balcombe events organised by Mr Welsh as “the most amazing feeing of solidarity for people of our village. We felt we had a sense of community and purpose.” She said Mr Welsh became very involved in the moment of leading and singing and making the events happen.
Vanessa Vine, the founder of Frack Free Sussex, also went into the witness box. She described Mr Welsh as very ebullient, self-aware and positive. She said she was aware of the designated area established on September 10th. She described it as “the sheep pen” and said no one ever went into it. She mentioned a day later in September when she stood in front of the site gate with a flag, talking to a police officer, and no one said anything about Section 14.
At the end of the defence case, members of the public gallery stood and applauded Mr Welsh. District Judge Peter Crabtree adjourned the trial. The final statements of both sides will be submitted in writing to the judge next month and he will give his ruling on May 1st at Eastbourne Magistrates Court.
Mr Welsh’s poem
Today I was arrested for the power of my voice,
I didn’t get arrested by design or wilful choice.
They arrested me for singing with my blessed heart and soul,
do they understand that freedom for humanity is my goal?
They say I was arrested for ignoring what they said,
but that wasn’t how it happened in my heart or in my head.
I was standing in the crowd when the music set me free
and in that heightened state let me explain what I could see.
Three men standing near me in the bustle and the noise,
as we sang for hope and freedom – I was singing with the boys.
I looked into their eyes and I sang with all my heart,
and in that breath I knew that we’d been brothers from the start.
I did not see their helmets, did not register their word,
the lyrics and the vibration of the anthem’s all I heard.
I did not see their authorship. All I saw was kin,
and my heart confirmed this truth and welcomed these three brothers in.
The beauty of this moment was both empty and complete,
my eyes were streaming tears and I couldn’t feel my feet.
And then, without a warning, I was pounced upon and grabbed,
I started then to understand, the understanding stabbed.
These brothers work for forces that care nothing for the heart,
and although the policing uniform’s presentable and smart,
it’s like the cell I’m sitting in – solid, square and bleak.
No room in here for questions or the answers that we seek.
The uniform, the cell – I think they truly are the same,
and in this feeling I let go the need to point and blame.
Our brothers and our sisters – they are trying to do their best,
in a system that is broken and needs to be addressed.
But how does one address an institution of control,
that’s been corrupted by an entity that does not have a soul?
The law has been corrupted by financial corporate might,
but no one here is responsible, there’s no one here to fight.
With thanks to Gareth Davies, Brighton Argus for the transcription of the poem
Morning 20th March