17th April 2014
The district judge at the trial of MP Caroline Lucas and four other anti-fracking campaigners said conditions imposed on people at the Balcombe protest on August 19th were unlawful. He said the senior police officer who issued the conditions was not authorised to do so, he was wrong to issue them and they were so vague and unclear as to be meaningless.
DJ Tim Pattinson made the ruling during his summing-up at the end of a six-day trial, at which Miss Lucas, Ruth Jarman, Ruth Potts, Sheila Menon and Josef Dobraszczyk were acquitted on all charges.
Part of the case had hinged on the legality of a condition imposed on protesters on August 19th last year by the then Deputy Chief Constable, Giles York. The condition required protesters to go to a designated area, north of the gateway into Cuadrilla’s oil exploration site at Balcombe.
DCC York imposed the condition in a notice issued under Section 14 of the Public Order Act. But DJ Pattinson said DCC York was not authorised to issue the notice. It should, he said, have been done by the senior police officer at the scene.
DCC, now Temporary Chief Constable, York told the trial he was concerned there was a serious risk of public disorder and significant disruption to the community because of the Reclaim the Power camp, which set up near Balcombe for six days.
DJ Pattinson said he found that Mr York had considered the risk carefully. But he added: “I have very real concerns that there were grounds for reasonable belief that a future assembly may result in serious consequences envisaged by Section 14”.
The District Judge also criticised the conditions of the order. It said protesters were required to use an area referred to “the northern most edge of the driveway to the Cuadrilla site, Lower Stumble Farm (Wood)” and “the southernmost edge of the driveway leading to Kemp Farm Industrial Park”. The judge said none of the campaigners were offered a compass and the map was orientated south/north, rather than the usual orientation of north/south.
“The conditions are lacking in clarity”, the district judge said, “and the map is inadequate.” He said it was imperative if criminal prosecutions for failure to comply were envisaged that the conditions were clear. “These conditions are not clear”, he said. “I have such concerns about the notice on the particular facts of this case that I find it to be invalid.
DJ Pattinson also criticised the policing operation on the ground. All the campaigners said they were unaware of the Section 14 area, where it was or what it meant. The judge said the distribution of paper notices about the Section 14 area had been done in a “somewhat casual manner”. He said: “No evidence was called from any of the liaison officers who purportedly served the Notices.”
He also drew attention to discrepancies in the evidence given by police officers at the trial. In the case of Mr Dobraszczyk, Miss Potts, Miss Menon and Miss Jarman, DJ Pattinson said the video evidence contradicted what the officers had said. The District Judge also said the evidence of one officer, who was a prosecution witness in the case of Miss Jarman, was “inaccurate and unreliable.