2nd April 2014
Section 14 trial: Day three – afternoon evidence
A former oil engineer arrested at protests outside Cuadrilla’s exploration site at Balcombe told his trial this afternoon that fracking was a “folly” and a “false promise”.
Barry Slipper, 66, from Hythe, said oil or gas extracted by fracking could not be burned for climate change reasons and the process would distract investment in renewable energy.
Mr Slipper is on trial at Brighton Magistrates Court along with eight other campaigners who took part in a sit-down protest next to the site gate. Four of them, including Mr Slipper, locked their arms together inside tubes. It is alleged that Mr Slipper obstructed the highway and breached a condition on protesting, imposed by police under Section 14 of the Public Order Act. He denies the allegations.
The court heard that the protest took place on August 19th, during the No Dash for Gas climate camp that came to Balcombe for six days. During that time, police had the power to require demonstrators to use a designated protest area on the eastern verge and carriageway of the B2036, north of the site entrance.
Mr Slipper described the lock-on as symbolic of the Lock the Gate protests against fracking in Australia. He said he first sat down at about 10.30 and was arrested after 3.30pm. During that time, he said he spent a lot of time lying on his back looking at the sky. He also joined in singing and chanting. He had little to eat or drink and by the afternoon he badly needed to use the toilet
Asked by his barrister, Tom Wainwright, whether he had been given a notice about the designated protest area by police liaison officers, he said “None at all”. When asked if he had any knowledge of Section 14, he said “I had no knowledge at all.” Mr Slipper said nothing had been said to him by police about access to the site or the emergency services.
He said he had not heard a loud-speaker announcement made to the wider crowd of demonstrators about the Section 14 order. He also could not recall Detective Chief Inspector Paul Betts talking to demonstrators in the entrance area. Mr Slipper said the first time he was aware of police contact was when a protest removal team came to release his group, although in response to a question from District Judge William Ashworth, he said there were officers in yellow jackets all around.
Earlier the court heard from PC Peter Swash, who arrested Mr Slipper. When asked about what the officer had said, Mr Slipper said “I have no recollection. I was not paying attention.”
Under cross-examination by Jonathan Edwards, prosecuting, Mr Slipper said he had been to a workshop on peaceful direct action at the climate camp that weekend and learned about lock-ons. “I realised there may be an opportunity to take some action that would raise media attention, to publicise fracking”, he said. Asked by Mr Edwards whether he had a banner, Mr Slipper said “No”. He said “I have done lots of banner waving and filling in petitions and it has done nothing … We have to make sure that everyone knows about this [fracking].” He said the protest did attract media attention and he spoke to numerous radio and television journalists.
Mr Edwards asked why he could not have protested from the grass verge, rather than the entrance. Mr Slipper replied “The purpose is to occupy the space in front of the gate…It carried a more powerful message.”
Earlier in the trial, the court saw video of footage of the group singing “We shall not be moved”. Mr Edwards put it to Mr Slipper that this was a message of defiance to the police. “That was not the thought in my mind”, Mr Slipper said. “My intention was to remain there to make a protest and that protest was entirely legitimate. We were not on the highway. There was no reason to believe that we should not make that protest.”
Mr Edwards asked “You didn’t think the police would allow you stay there indefinitely?” Mr Slipper replied “There was nothing to suggest that anything had changed. We had stayed there for most of the day. Our presence had been tolerated.” Asked why he had needed to lock-on, Mr Slipper said it meant they would not be moved by the police.
Mr Edwards suggested; “You were shutting your eyes to the obvious”. “No”, said Mr Slipper. “You were pretending you were not aware of the police so you could not comply with them”, Mr Edwards said. “No”, said Mr Slipper. “It is a convenient fiction so you could say you were not aware”, Mr Edwards suggested. “It is not a fiction”, Mr Slipper replied.
The case continues tomorrow with more of the campaigners giving evidence. On trial with Mr Slipper are: 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 Ascott, Chris Seal, 30, of London and Kim Turner, 56, of Brighton. They are all charged with obstructing the highway. All but Mr Cawkwell are charged with failing to comply with a police condition under Section 14 of the Public Order Act. All the campaigners deny all the charges.
The case continues tomorrow.