28th March 2014
Caroline Lucas trial: day five – evidence of Ruth Potts, Sheila Menon and Josef Dobraszczyk
Police behaviour at the Balcombe anti-fracking protests on the day MP Caroline Lucas was arrested changed from playful to intimidating, a court heard today.
Filmmaker Sheila Menon, one of three women arrested with Miss Lucas, described how some police officers took part in playground games with demonstrators at about 9am. But throughout the day police numbers grew and at around 3pm a line of officers appeared suddenly to face a sit-down protest in the entrance to Cuadrilla’s oil exploration site.
Miss Menon told Brighton Magistrates Court: “It was quite an intense situation. I felt a bit nervous. I was not feeling entirely safe in that environment. I felt we were hemmed in by the police officers. It was quite intimidating. I was concerned that they would rush towards us.”
At the same time, Miss Menon said, other police officers were using the pressure point technique to arrest Miss Lucas’s eldest son, who was also part of the group. “The police officers gathered round her son”, she said. “One had his forehead. I was quite alarmed. I had never seen anything like that before in my life. It was very intimidating.”
Miss Menon, along with Miss Lucas, Ruth Potts, Ruth Jarman and Josef Dobraszczyk, are all charged with failing to comply with a police order under Section 14 of the Public Order Act at Balcombe on August 19th. The police allege that they did not move from Cuadrilla’s site entrance to a designated protest area when asked by officers. They are also charged with obstructing the highway. All five deny the charges.
Miss Menon told the court that moments before she was arrested she and Miss Lucas had agreed that it would be a good time to end the protest, which by then had been going on for about five hours.
When asked whether she knew that the entrance was needed for emergency access, Miss Menon said “No”. She said she had not been told that a Section 14 order was in place, nor that there was a designated protest area, nor that she was obstructing the highway. She also denied seeing a map handed out by police liaison officers, which showed where the designated area was. Miss Menon told the court that when she was arrested she was not aware of the reason.
Miss Potts, a lecturer, also gave evidence this afternoon. She explained that she wanted to take part in a peaceful meaningful protest. She said it was important to raise awareness about fracking. “Between 60 and 80 per cent of known fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground”, she said, “if the world is to avoid greater global warming”. The entrance way was directly related to Cuadrilla’s activities, which made it symbolically important, Miss Potts said.
She told the court that she had already pursued other options to direct action, by writing letters to MPs and engaging in the climate change debate. “I think public protest is not just a right. It is a responsibility”, she said.
Miss Potts described her reaction to a police notice, which she said was thrown in her lap, about Section 14 and the designated area. “I felt intimidated”, she said. “It felt like some kind of entrapment”. She said she asked police for more time to discuss it with the group. “We had been together as a group for some hours by that time. It was important to maintain the integrity and symbolic power of the protest.”
When asked by her barrister, Tom Wainwright, why she did not leave the area at that point, she said: “Given the number of police officers, I would have been concerned to leave other people at that stage. It felt important that we stayed together.”
Halfway through the group discussion, Miss Potts said officers grabbed her arms. “I was not told I was under arrest, she said. “I was not given a caution. I was given no warning that force would be used.” She was heard on police evidence gathering film shouting “You’re hurting me” and “We were still discussing”. Miss Potts told the court she was left with bruising on both arms. “If they had given us 5-10 minutes we could have had a reasonable conversation and we would have then left.”
Jonathan Edwards, prosecuting, put it to her that it was her intention to delay Cuadrilla. She replied: “We were aware there was no drilling. There was no intention to disrupt.” He asked why she hadn’t read the notice distributed by police. “Because of the manner it was distributed”, she said. “I didn’t understand why we were being given it.”
Mr Dobraszczyk also gave evidence this afternoon. He was wearing a gas mask when he was arrested, which he explained was part of the symbolic nature of the protest against Cuadrilla. He described how he joined the group that had already formed in the entrance. He said he was not aware of a police officer making an announcement with a loud hailer and when the notices were being given out he was playing a guitar. He was not aware the entrance was needed for emergency access and he was not aware that it was part of the highway.
Mr Edwards asked him “Why didn’t you ask what the notices were for?” Mr Dobraszczyk replied: “It was a very busy, loud, chaotic, environment. We were involved in our carnival protest.” Mr Edwards suggested “It was quiet enough to have a conversation with the officers”. Mr Dobraszczyk replied: “We were facing away from the police”.
The case was adjourned until April 17th when the remaining campaigner, Ruth Jarman, will give evidence and District Judge Tim Pattinson will give his verdict.