Balcombe anti-fracking campaigner appeals against conviction for three-minute obstruction

An environmental campaigner who is challenging convictions arising from the Balcombe anti-fracking protests finally began his appeal today, 16 months after his arrest and following two delays to his case.

Nick Ward, of Cambridge, is disputing a conviction for obstructing the highway. The police claim he walked with his aunt’s spaniel in front of a lorry going to Cuadrilla’s exploratory drilling site at Balcombe in West Sussex.

He is also appealing against a conviction for criminal damage after writing two anti-fracking messages in pencil on his cell wall at Crawley Police Station.

Mr Ward’s case had been adjourned in June last year because there was not enough time allocated for it and again in September because the crown had a backlog of cases. This is the last of more than 20 court cases arising from the Balcombe protests.

This morning at Hove Trial Centre Nicholas Hall, the barrister for the crown, showed a three-minute video of the incident leading to Mr Ward’s arrest on September 20th 2013. He explained that during the protest that summer campaigners had often walked in front of lorries visiting the drilling site.

Mr Hall said the obstruction was only short but it would have lasted longer if Mr Ward had not been arrested. He said there would be no case in law to justify writing on the cell wall because “the wall is not normally a writing surface”.

PC Jack Sims, one of the officers escorting the lorry, told the court that Mr Ward had been arrested because he was walking more slowly than other protesters. “The lorry was getting closer to me and my colleagues”, he said. “Mr Ward was causing a hazard to us and the protesters”.

The court also heard the transcript of Mr Ward’s police interview, which lasted 53 minutes. In it Mr Ward explained that he had been staying with his aunt who lived about 20 miles away from Balcombe. He had suggested they visit the village after hearing an interview about fracking on that moring’s Today programme on BBC Radio 4.

In the inteview, Mr Ward denied that he had deliberately tried to slow down the lorry or that he had caused police escorting the lorry to trip.

He also explained he had written “Fracking is criminal pollution” and “Fracking = contamination” on the cell wall because he wanted to get his message across. He had offered to clean it off.

Shahida Begum, for Mr Ward, said slow walking in front of trucks going to the site had become an accepted part of the protest and had been tolerated by the police. The tactical plan for policing the protests said people should be arrested only if they sat down in the road or the site entrance. It also emphasised the importance of treating people consistently, she said.

She showed video clips of four similar arrests and mentioned four others where the legal cases were dropped either before they came to court or during a trial. She also referred to a day of action in August where large numbers of people sat on the highway for several hours without being arrested.

The apeal continues tomorrow when Mr Ward is expected to give evidence.

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