Campaign

Climate camp risked disruption, damage and intimidation – chief constable tells court

24th March 2014
Caroline Lucas trial: day one – afternoon evidence

The chief constable of Sussex said the climate camp that came to Balcombe last August risked significant disruption to the life of the community, serious damage to property and intimidation of people working at Cuadrilla’s oil exploration site.

Giles York was giving evidence at Brighton Magistrates Court at the trial of five anti-fracking campaigners, including the MP Caroline Lucas. He said the risks justified his use of Section 14 of the Public Order Act to impose a condition on demonstrations by designating a protest area outside Cuadrilla’s site. The condition ran for the period of the camp, from August 16-21.

Miss Lucas, 53, of Brighton, was arrested at a protest in the gateway to Cuadrilla’s site on August 19th. Also arrested that day and on trial with her are Ruth Potts, 39, of Totnes, Ruth Jarman, 50, of Hook, Sheila Menon, 41, of London and Josef Dobraszczyk, 22, of Bristol. They are all charged with failing to comply with a Section 14 notice and with obstructing the highway. They all deny the offences.

Mr York spent more than three hours in the witness box this afternoon. He explained that he was the deputy chief constable at the time of the climate camp, also known as Reclaim the Power. He said Sussex Police had two weeks’ notice to prepare for the event. The force expected 1,000-1,500 demonstrators, in addition to those already protesting outside Cuadrilla’s site. Intelligence from social media and other sources suggested there might be direct action to occupy the site or to stop Cuadrilla’s operation.

The court heard that Mr York made the Section 14 order after a meeting at around noon on August 16th , just before the climate camp was due to start. (He was the senior police officer on duty because the chief constable was on holiday.) He was briefed by two senior officers in the Balcombe policing operation: the gold commander, Chief Superintendent Tony Blaker, who was in charge of strategy, and Superintendent Jane Derrick, the silver commander in charge of tactics. Mr York signed the Section 14 notice, which he said gave powers to police on the ground, at 3.30pm. There were no notes or minutes of the meeting, Mr York said.

Questioned by Jonathan Edwards, prosecuting, about the purpose of the Section 14 order, Mr York said it gave police a tactical option in planning for the climate camp. It aimed to balance the needs of the demonstrators to take part in a lawful and meaningful protest with the needs of people who needed to access the site, including emergency vehicles. Mr York said officers on the ground would use their discretion about when to use the order.

Tom Wainwright, for Miss Lucas and Miss Potts, asked Mr York which community he was referring to when he said life would be disrupted. The chief constable said: “People who chose to work on that site.” Mr Wainwright put it to Mr York that Cuadrilla had decided not to drill during the climate camp and had reduced its staffing so fewer people would be disrupted. Mr York replied “It was about minimising the impact on their lives trying to get to and from work”.

When asked about the risk of serious damage to property, the chief constable said he was concerned that the temporary nature of the site made it vulnerable. But when Mr Wainwright put it to him that security had been upgraded at the time of the camp, Mr York said he was not aware of that. Mr York said he was also not aware that Cuadrilla’s staff and contractors were using an alternative entrance to the site during the period of the climate camp.

The chief constable said he also considered the requirement to keep emergency access open, 24-hours a day. He said he considered it to be a high risk site. Mr Wainwright put it to him that Cuadrilla referred in its planning application to the operation as low risk. He said the emergency services could have used the alternative access. But Mr York replied that he had been advised that route was not appropriate.

Mr Wainwright drew attention to the tactical plan of the operation, which discussed a scenario for a sit-down protest and how long it would be allowed to continue. It didn’t mention the emergency services, Mr Wainwright said.  “It was all about the business interests of Cuadrilla.” Mr York replied that were other considerations but added “I didn’t have sight or authorship of the tactical plan and cannot comment on the interpretation of the author”.

Mr York, under cross-examination by Shahida Begun, for Mr Dobraszczyk, accepted that he had not read many of the other supporting documents at the briefing and he did not look at the intelligence. Mr York said “I had a verbal briefing from gold and silver which I believe is proportionate for a decision of this kind”. Mr York said his officers were asking him for the authority to issue the order, not advice on specific tactics of the operation.

The case continues tomorrow morning.

24th March 2014 – morning evidence

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