MP joined Balcombe anti-fracking protest to send message to government

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

Caroline Lucas joined the protest against Cuadrilla’s oil exploration site at Balcombe to send a message to the government that fracking was not needed or wanted, Brighton Magistrates Court heard this morning.

Miss Lucas, 53, of Brighton is on trial along with Josef Dobraszczyk, 22, of Bristol, Ruth Potts, 39, of Totnes, Ruth Jarman, 50, of Hook, and and Sheila Menon, 41, of London. They all deny obstructing the highway and failing to comply with a police condition imposed under Section 14 of the Public Order Act on August 19th last year.

The court heard that after her arrest, Miss Lucas said did not believe she was blocking access to the Cuadrilla site because she understood there no drilling was taking place that day and she was not on road itself.  She told police she didn’t move because she wanted to show solidarity with other demonstrators.

The court saw police video footage from the day of Miss Lucas’s arrest. Video from police evidence gatherers showed a large crowd of demonstrators, some sitting on the ground. Police Protest Liaison Officers handed out paper copies of the Section 14 notice. A group of officers used the pressure point arrest technique to remove a young man sitting next to Miss Lucas. A demonstrator was seen bending forward with a police officer’s hands round his neck. An officer could be heard saying “We really need to get you to move into the section 14 area.”  Miss Lucas was arrested and led away from the crowd, followed by a large number of journalists.

Jonathan Edwards, prosecuting, said there were about 300 demonstrators gathering outside Cuadrilla’s oil exploration site at Balcome on August 19th. It was agreed that the crowd was sufficiently large that the B2036 had to be closed by police. At about 1.10pm, Chief Inspector Beard used a loud hailer to read the conditions of the Section 14 notice to the demonstrators. This required demonstrators to move to a designated protest area, he said. Those that refused to move were arrested for failing to comply with the conditions and obstructing the highway.

The temporary chief constable of Sussex, Giles York, went into the witness box this morning. He described a briefing he had on August 16th from Chief Superintendent Tony Blaker, the gold commander in charge of the strategy of the policing operation at Balcombe, and Superintendent Jane Derrick, the silver commander responsible for tactics.

The briefing discussed the need for a Section 14 notice because of the expected arrival of the climate camp at Balcombe that weekend. Chief constable York said this would lead to a significant change in the number of people at the protest and the intent or capability of the protesters. He said intelligence suggested that demonstrators might try to stop the drilling or enter the site.

The chief constable said “I believed there would facility for serious disorder, significant disruption to the community and intimidation.” The Section 14 notice, he said, would balance the rights to lawful and meaningful protest with the needs of people working at the site, as well as maintaining the safety of the site by keeping emergency access open.

The defence will argue later in the case that the prosecution infringed the rights to freedom of expression and assembly of the campaigners under Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

They will also argue:

  • The prosecution was not reasonable or proportionate
  • The failure of campaigners to comply with the order was due to circumstances beyond their individual control
  • Some were unaware or unclear about the contents of the order
  • The conditions of the order were unlawful because the senior police officer present should have authorised the order
  • The order had not been reviewed
  • The order was unnecessary, unreasonable, disproportionate and excessive
  • It was not sufficiently communicated
  • It was vague and contradictory
  • It was arbitrarily imposed
  • There was no need for emergency access to be maintained at all times by Cuadrilla

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