Sit-down protest would not stop emergency services – court told

3rd April 2014

Section 14 trial: Day four – morning evidence
Anti-fracking campaigners who took part in a sit-down protest next to the gate of Cuadrilla’s oil exploration site at Balcombe told a court this morning they would not have stopped emergency vehicles getting in or out.

Matthew Whitney, 30, of Nottingham, was one of four campaigners who had locked their arms into tubes to form a small square. Despite this, he said an ambulance could have got past them if it needed to enter the site. Mr Whitney, giving evidence at Brighton Magistrates Court, said: “The four of us would not have prevented quite large vehicles to get through that gate. It is really wide.”

James Jones, 19, from Liverpool, another campaigner who was locked on, said in his evidence: “We were on the left [of the driveway] and there was room.” He said a police protester removal team, which cut them from the tubes, parked its Mercedes van in driveway next to them.

Phillip Cawkwell, who was part of the protest but not locked on, said: “I was not blocking anything. I was right on the edge [of the gateway]…I was only just on the tarmac.” Mr Cawkwell, 52, from Ascot, said he could see police on duty inside the site. He said: “I watched them chain the gates to the police vans which I thought was quite strange.”

All three had come to Balcombe for the No Dash for Gas climate camp, which ran from August 16-19th. The prosecution alleged that the campaigners prevented emergency services reaching the site by obstructing the highway on August 19th. It is also alleged that Mr Whitney and Mr Jones failed to comply with a police order to go to a designated protest site, under Section 14 of the Public Order Act. They deny the charges

In their evidence, all three campaigners said they were not aware that the gateway was part of the highway. They believed they were not causing an obstruction because no drilling was taking place at the site and no deliveries were expected. When asked by their barristers if anyone mentioned the need for emergency access, they each said “No”. Each also said they would have moved if, hypothetically, an emergency vehicle had needed to get through.

They also said they knew nothing about the Section 14 order until they were arrested. They said they did not see paper notices about the designated protest area, they had not been told about it by police and they did not know where it was. They each said they did not hear police announcements made by loud hailer to the crowd or by an officer to the sit—down protests in the gateway.

Mr Whitney and Mr Jones said their first contact with police was when they were being arrested. Mr Jones said: “I overheard someone saying I was being arrested for Section 14. I didn’t know what this was. When I turned around she was not there.”

Mr Cawkwell said he had gone into the woods alongside the site entrance. “One police officer asked where I had been”, he said. “I said I had been into the woods. He didn’t believe me and he said I think you have been up the road [to the climate camp]. He said I could go back [to the entrance] and not to do it again.”

Mr Whitney and Mr Jones said this was the first time they had taken part in a lock-on. When asked by Jonathan Edwards, prosecuting, how long the protest would have gone on, Mr Jones said: “No one said anything about how long but probably until someone was desperate for the toilet.” Mr Whitney said: “The issue was important. I was prepared to make this gesture by locking on rather than simply sitting down.”

Mr Cawkwell, a type one diabetic, said his attention during the protest was on his bag. When asked why, he said: “It is my life support system. I don’t go anywhere without it. I has my medication in it.” He denied turning away from officer who arrested him. “I don’t think I ever faced him”, he said. Mr Cawkwell was pressure pointed at the time of his arrest and went limp. He said he was shocked and stunned. “Fear would be a big part of it.”

He said his blood sugar levels were very high at the police station. He took some insulin which meant he had to eat but the police had taken away his dextrose supply and tablets he needed to help him digest food. He said he did not have legal advice before his police interview because he had been told there would be a long wait as a lot of people had been arrested. “I wanted to get out”, he said. “All I cared out was my diabetes.”

The campaigners were asked about why they sang “We shall not be moved” when they were arrested. The word of the song are evidence of defiance, Mr Edwards suggested. Mr Whitney replied “It is a protest song that has been sung since the 60s”.

They were also asked about shuffling, which the prosecution alleged was a response to an instruction to move from the area given by Detective Chief Inspector Paul Betts. Mr Whitney said: “We shuffled a few feet closer to the gate. We felt the gate was the symbolic focus of our protest.”

Mr Edward suggested to Mr Whitney that he intended to remain in defiance of the police. Mr Whitney said: “We were in the road. Nothing had changed during the course of the day. We were carrying out a protest in front of the site that was not in operation.” He denied that he defied the police and said he did not want to get arrested.

Other campaigners on trial are Barry Slipper, 66, from Hythe, Katie Brown, 34 and Luke Evans, 34, from Liverpool, Camille Herreman, 26, of Nottingham, Chris Seal, 30, of London and Kim Turner, 56, of Brighton. They are all charged with obstructing the highway and failing to comply with a police condition under Section 14 of the Public Order Act. All deny all the charges.

Evidence from day three – morning and afternoon  

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