Court hears of threat to Cuadrilla’s Balcombe drill rig

31st March 2014

Section 14 trial: Day one – afternoon evidence
Police feared environmental campaigners might break into Cuadrilla’s drilling site at Balcombe and climb the rig during the No Dash for Gas climate camp in August last year, a court heard this afternoon.

Superintendent Jane Derrick, the officer in charge of police tactics at Balcombe, said there was intelligence that people attending the camp about a mile from Cuadrilla’s site had a range of direct action skills.

“I was briefed that there were a number of people in the No Dash for Gas community who had the capacity and skills to undertake an incursion of the site and to climb the drill, to cause damage to the drill and other equipment on the site.”

Supt Derrick said she was also aware that there were a number of workshops organised by the No Dash for Gas camp on how to undertake direction action.

The officer was giving evidence on the first day of a trial of nine anti-fracking campaigners who were arrested at a sit-down protest outside the main gate to Cuadrilla’s site on August 19th.  Katie Brown, 34, Luke Evans, 34, and James Jones, 19, all from Liverpool, Camille Herreman, 26, and Matthew Whitney, 30, both of Nottingham, Phillip Cawkwell, 52, of Ascot, Chris Seal, 30, of London, Barry Slipper, 47, of Hythe, and Kim Turner, 57, of Brighton, are all charged with obstructing the highway. All but Mr Cawkwell are also charged with failing to comply with a condition imposed under the Public Order Act. All deny all the offences.

The court heard that Supt Derrrick was the silver commander responsible for police tactics at both the climate camp, from August 6-21st, (known as Operation Stade), as well as the ongoing protests at Balcombe (known as Operation Mansell).

As part of her responsibilities for Operation Stade, Supt Derrick said she produced a 30-page tactical plan, which assessed the risk of direct action at Cuadrilla’s site. She said up to 1,000 extra people were expected in the area during the climate camp. “The additional numbers themselves would increase the threat of low-level direct action, such as lock-ons”, she said. “But there was also the threat of those who had skills and equipment to climb into the site to damage equipment and potentially themselves.” She said she also considered allegations from site staff that they were being harassed off the site and on their way in and out.

Supt Derrick said the tactical plan supported her recommendation to impose a condition on demonstrators under Section 14 of the Public Order Act by requiring them to use a designated protest area.  This comprised the grass verge and carriage of the B2036 north and east of the entrance of Cuadrilla’s site. Supt Derrick said she briefed the then deputy chief constable, Giles York, on August 16th and drafted the Section 14 order. He made some changes to the order before signing it, she said. It came into force at 1pm that day and lasted until August 21st.

Jonathan Edwards, prosecuting, took Supt Derrick through the entries on the police computer logging system, Cleo, for August 19th. At 11.06 she recorded there was some form of lock-on at the site entrance. At 11.39, she referred to the imposition of the Section 14 order but said people were not being arrested. By 12.20, Supt Derrick had asked police protest liaison officers to ask people sitting in the entrance area how long they planned to stay. “They said they wanted to be there all day”, she said. “I was willing to negotiate but I could not accept it [the protest] would continue all day. If we could not negotiate to finish and they failed to comply with our request then they might have to be arrested.”

Supt Derrick described how she briefed the gold commander, responsible for strategy, and the bronze commanders at the site. By 13.08, the Cleo log showed that the B2036 remained closed.

The court also heard from Leon Jennings, the health, safety, security and environment director for Cuadrilla Resources. He described how the company dramatically increased its round-the-clock security for the climate camp.

“We started [the drilling operation] with four guards”, he said, “and increased the next week to seven. The weekend of the climate camp the number of guards rose to 27 for each 12 hour shift.

Mr Jennings said the site needed 24-hour, seven days-a-week access for emergency vehicles as a condition of its environmental permits. When asked by Mr Edwards what would be the consequence of losing that access, Mr Jennings said it would hamper the company’s operation. He said the site stopped drilling during the climate camp on the advice of police but it carried out maintenance and mud circulation to maintain the well. “If we had shut down we would have lost the well and all the work we had done.”

Cross-examined by Tom Wainwright, Mr Jennings said he was aware of another access to the site about 100 metres north of the main gate. He also acknowledged that the mud circulation work did not stop on August 19th.

Mr Jennings also gave evidence, heard last week at the trial of Caroline Lucas, that the site had got short of water, food and welfare facilities during the climate camp. He said delivery vehicles could not get in or out of the site because the road was closed by protests.

The case continues tomorrow and is expected to last six days. Supt Derrick will be cross-examined by the defence in the morning.

Day 1: Morning evidence

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