Caroline Lucas joined Balcombe protest to warn government about dangers of fracking

28th March 2014
Caroline Lucas trial: day five – Caroline Lucas’s  evidence

The Green MP Caroline Lucas joined a symbolic five-hour sit-down protest against Cuadrilla’s activities at Balcombe to send a message to the government that fracking would lead to more dangerous climate change.

Giving evidence in her trial at Brighton Magistrates Court, she described how she and a group of about 20 people sat down in the entrance of Cuadrilla’s oil exploration site at about 10.30am on August 19th. They linked arms, sang, chatted and shared food, she said. The police presence was minimal and no one asked the group to move.

Miss Lucas said Balcombe was in “the front line of a new fossil fuel industry”. She said: “If we go down a road of fracking we will be looking at even more fossil fuel emissions and even more climate change.”

The MP for Brighton Pavilion described how she had received hundreds of letters against fracking from her constituents. She had signed early day motions in parliament and spoken in debates. “Unfortunately the government is not acting with anything like the urgency we need to tackle climate change”, she said. “We have an environment minister who appears not to believe in climate change. We are not going to deliver on our international obligations to keep warming below two degrees.”

Miss Lucas said climate change was one of the issues that led her to stand for parliament: “I am haunted by the idea that my children and my children’s children will say to me ‘What did you do about this overwhelming threat ’. I want to do everything peaceful that I can to address this before it is too late.”

In August, Miss Lucas said, it looked as if campaigners might be able to persuade the government to take what she called a cleaner, greener, energy route. The Balcombe protests were critical in raising awareness against fracking.

Asked why she sat outside the Cuadrilla site, rather than elsewhere, Miss Lucas said “It was partly because on the road would have been an obstruction. We had heard that Cuadrilla was not operating. It was symbolic because Balcombe was the front line of the fossil fuel industry.”

She described sitting down as a legitimate way to the protest. “Putting your body where your beliefs are is one of the most peaceful ways you can express your view.”

Miss Lucas said her group of campaigners was already discussing how to end their protest, before police began asking them to leave. “It would not have continued much longer. People had to get trains. We wanted to make sure we ended the protest together, rather than dribble away in ones or twos.”

At about 3pm, her eldest son was forcibly removed from the group by police using the pressure point arrest technique. “It looked disproportionate”, she said. “It looked as if he was in pain and I was very upset about it.” Twenty-five minutes later, she was also arrested.

Miss Lucas said a police protest liaison officer dropped a piece of paper in her lap and said something about Section 14.   “I didn’t know what that meant,” she said. Miss Lucas said she looked briefly at the paper twice. “I scanned the section about damage and serous public disorder. It didn’t seem to be apply to what we were doing. I didn’t understand why it had been given me.” Miss Lucas denied that she was told about the location of the designated protest area.

When asked why she didn’t move from the area, she said: “There was no reason not to stay. We had been there since 10.30. No one had been trying to get in or out. I could not see why we would not be able to continue our peace protest.”

Her barrister, Tom Wainwright, asked whether she expected to be arrested. Miss Lucas said: “I was aware that people were being criminalised at protests. People are getting arrested at protests. It would have been possible but I could not see any reason why it could happen.”

Jonathan Edwards, prosecuting, put it to her that the reason to move was because the police said so. Miss Lucas replied: “tempered by the right to peaceful protest”. She said no one had mentioned the need for emergency access to Cuadrilla’s site. “I was perfectly confident that in an emergency we would have moved.”

Mr Edwards put it to her that the group singing “We shall not be moved” when the police arrived was a song of defiance. Miss Lucas replied “It was a song of strength.”

He suggested that the linking of arms was to make it difficult for them to be removed.  “No”, Miss Lucas said, “It was about supporting each other, solidarity, being together.”

Miss Lucas and four other anti-fracking campaigners deny obstructing the highway and breaching a condition imposed on demonstrators under Section 14 of the Public Order Act.

*Earlier this morning, District Judge Tim Pattinson dismissed an application from defence barristers that the charge of failing to comply with the Section 14 order should be dismissed.

Another of the campaigners, Ruth Potts, gave evidence this morning. She told the court: “Peaceful protest is not just a democratic right. It is a democratic responsibility.” More of Miss Potts’ evidence will be posted soon.

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