16th May 2014
An anti-fracking campaigner, acquitted after last year’s protests at Balcombe, has criticised the Sussex Police operation for being disproportionate.
Sheila Menon, who was arrested as she sat next to the MP Caroline Lucas during a sit down protest in August, told BBC South East Today: “These fracking protests are going to be become more and more prevalent as more and more people stand up to say no and I believe that what they were trying to do at Balcombe was to nip that in the bud. It was completely disproportionate.”
Miss Menon’s interview was part of an item about convictions arising from the Balcombe protest. It used data from a Freedom of Information request made by InvestigatingBalcombeAndCuadrilla.com which revealed that although 126 people had been arrested at Balcombe, prosecutors secured only 29 convictions.
Lydia Dagostino, the solicitor who represented many of the anti-fracking campaigners, said: “At Balcombe there is an argument that they got it very wrong and they misjudged the support of the local community, misjudged the mood of the protesters and swept people up, pushed them through the criminal justice system and then months later, down the line, we have a series of acquittals.”
The item also included an interview with the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, Katy Bourne, who questioned the chief constable on the Balcombe protests at a meeting this afternoon. “They are never going to get it right first time”, she said. “It would be a miracle if anybody gets anything right first time but the important thing for me is to ensure that the learning that comes out of it is actually implemented.”
When asked if mistakes were made at Balcombe, Mrs Bourne said: “I am sure on all sides there was learning to be had from everywhere.”
A statement from Sussex Police said officers had worked with the crown prosecution service to ensure there was a realistic chance of conviction.
The statement said also two protesters were due to stand trial in September but the Crown Prosecution Service confirmed last week that charges against the pair had been dropped and the trial abandoned.