21st March 2014
A veteran environmental campaigner who walked with his aunt’s springer spaniel in front of a lorry delivering to Cuadrilla’s Balcombe drilling site was found guilty of obstruction this morning – even though the policeman who arrested him said the case should be dropped.
Nick Ward, 52, of Cambridge, denied he obstructed the highway on September 20th last year during the anti-fracking protests. He also denied causing criminal damage by writing anti-fracking words in pencil on his cell wall. But deputy district judge Adrian Turner, sitting at Horsham Magistrates Court, said the police had no alternative but to arrest Mr Ward at the demonstration and the subsequent prosecution was reasonable on grounds of public safety and preventing disorder. On the damage to the cell, he said although it was trivial it could not be lawful.
Mr Ward was given a 12-month conditional discharge on each count, to run concurrently. He was ordered to pay costs of £135 and a victim surcharge of £15.
This was the third day of Mr Ward’s trial. It was originally scheduled for January 2nd but ran out time and was adjourned until March 10th. That coincided with a day of action by barristers and although Mr Ward attended court there were no advocates to conduct the case.
Today Mr Ward defended himself. He described how he was staying with his aunt, about 20 miles away from Balcombe, on September 20th. That morning he heard what he described as a pro-fracking interview by John Humphrys on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. Out of curiosity, he suggested he and his aunt visit Balcombe.
When they arrived, Mr Ward took the lead of his aunt’s untrained spring spaniel. He also had his 1970s Gibson banjo, which, he said “I protect like a baby.”
Mr Ward said: “I noticed about 100 metres up the road there was a stationary truck blocking the highway with maybe 20-30 police around it.” He said he stopped in the middle of the road and then a group of officers appeared to target him and ran towards him.
The court watched a video which showed the period of time from the police reaching Mr Ward to his arrest. Mr Ward is heard saying “You are poisoning the water”. The police are heard to say “Keep walking”. The incident lasted two minutes and 20 seconds.
Jonathan Edwards, prosecuting, put it to Mr Ward, “You were given repeated warnings by the police, which you defied.” Mr Ward said “I refute that. I always kept moving.” Mr Ward accused the police of jostling and shoving him and he denied that he caused an officer to stumble or trip.
Mr Ward was arrested by PC Jack Simms and taken to Crawley Police Station. In the back of the police van, Mr Ward said PC Simms told him he shouldn’t be there and it was an unnecessary charge.
At the police station, Mr Ward was offered a caution which he refused. While in a cell, he asked for a piece of paper and a pencil. “My intention was to record my impressions of the event [on paper]”. Earlier in the trial, the court heard that he wrote on the cell wall: “Fracking contaminates H2O. It is a crime against the natural world,” and “Fracking is criminal pollution”.
Mr Edwards put it to Mr Ward: “You didn’t have any lawful authority to write on the wall”. Mr Ward replied: “I was trying to alert the police to what I believed to be pollution issues.” Mr Ward added: “I was full of remorse”. He said he immediately admitted the graffiti and offered to clean it off. He also wrote a Taoist inspired poem for the police, which they accepted.”
Deputy District Judge Turner said Mr Ward had a right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. But he added that Mr Ward’s actions at the demonstration threatened public safety and order. “I am satisfied”, he said “that this prosecution was proportionate and is consistent with Article 10 and can be justified on safety and public order grounds.”
[This post was amended on 22/3/14 to change Daoist to Taoist and to remove the direct quotes from attributed to PC Jack Simms.]
[This post was amended on 3/9/14 to clarify that Mr Ward was offered a caution]