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Anti-fracking campaigner challenges conviction for assaulting police officer at Balcombe protests

26th August 2014

The appeal began this morning of an anti-fracking campaigner convicted of assaulting and obstructing a police officer at last year’s protests at Balcombe.

Timothy Harris, 30, from Crewkerne in Somerset, is challenging the guilty verdicts imposed at his trial in January by District Judge William Ashworth.

The case centred on the arrest of another campaigner, Zachary Hewitt, by a police evidence gatherer, PC Stephen Kimber, outside Cuadrilla’s oil exploration site in Balcombe on August 2nd last year. Mr Hewitt was accused of assaulting PC Kimber but was acquitted.

The court saw police video of the arrest in which Mr Hewitt was holding a painting of a stag in front of PC Kimber and his camera operator, PC Ben Barnatt. PC Kimber pushed the painting away twice and then, a short time later, was seen falling to the ground holding on to Mr Hewitt. PC Kimber lay on top of Mr Hewitt, surrounded by campaigners and police. A large number of people could be heard shouting “Let him go”.

Jonathan Edwards, for the Crown, said it was during the arrest that Mr Harris “became involved and tried to pull the officer away from Mr Hewitt”. He said Mr Harris would argue that he was defending Mr Hewitt and that PC Kimber was not acting in the lawful execution of his duty.

PC Kimber told the court how he had lain on top of Mr Hewitt to restrain him because he was struggling. He said he felt blows coming from behind and found himself being dragged away from Mr Hewitt.

Mr Knight, for Mr Harris, put it to PC Kimber: “You got angry, you lost control and you attacked Mr Hewitt”.

No PC Kimber replied.

“It was the fact of Mr Hewitt defying you that led you to arrest him”, Mr Knight suggested.

“No”, PC Kimber said.

“You arrested him because he hadn’t done what he was told”, Mr Knight said.

“I arrested him because he assaulted me,” PC Kimber said.

The officer said the situation was very volatile and he denied Mr Knight’s suggestion that he had been heavy-handed and violent. He said it was “not applicable” to tell Mr Hewitt why he had been arrested.

Acting Sergeant Simon Barden, a police liaison officer at the protests, described how Mr Harris made a deliberate striking gesture from above the shoulder downwards towards PC Kimber’s neck and back. Sergeant Barden said Mr Harris also grabbed at PC Kimber, hindering the officer’s attempt to arrest Mr Hewitt.

The sergeant admitted that other people were also attempting to rescue Mr Hewitt but he denied he was mistaken about what he saw Mr Harris do. “It was definitely the person I described”, he said.

PC Tom Duffy, a public order officer at the protests, said he saw PC Kimber had a cut to his lip but he did not see what had caused it. He was asked why he had not mentioned anything in his police statement about Mr Hewitt being told he was being arrested. PC Duffy said: “It was so loud I could not work out what anyone was saying”.

His Honour Judge Tain ruled that the Crown could not play a piece of police video that had been recorded two-and-a-half hours before the incident. The case was adjourned early this afternoon because PC Barnatt had been stood down by the Crown Prosecution Service but was required by Mr Harris to give evidence.

The case resumes tomorrow morning at Lewes Crown Court, sitting in Brighton.

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