Fracking protest trial hears allegation of assaults on campaigners

Two environmental campaigners allege they were assaulted during an anti-fracking protest outside the exploratory oil site at Horse Hill in Surrey last year.

Isabelle Bish and Samantha Gibson told Guildford Magistrates Court they had been attempting to slow down a delivery at the site near Gatwick Airport. But they said they were forcibly removed from the main entrance. They complained to police but no action was taken.

The women were giving evidence at their trial on a charge of obstructing the highway during a separate protest a few days later. They both deny the charge.

Miss Bish said the assault happened on October 16th when a delivery lorry arrived at the site gate. She was sitting on a chair outside the gate. “We were there for about 30 seconds”. She said a man shouted: “This is my land. Get off my land”. Then the gate opened. Miss Gibson said: “Issy [Miss Bish] was picked up in her chair and thrown into the road and I was pushed into the road”.

On October 22nd, the two women, who had protested against fossil fuel drilling at other sites in the UK, were again outside Horse Hill. This time they were taking part in a lock-on protest, the court heard.

Jonathan Edwards, prosecuting, said they had glued their hands together inside a chimney pot. Police asked them several times to move and they said they could not. After about four hours a lorry tried to deliver to the site. The women were separated by a specialist team of police officers and arrested.

Both women gave evidence that they had tried a wide range of other forms of protest, including petitions, banners and letter-writing, to highlight their concerns about fracking, fossil fuels and climate change. But they said these methods had proved less effective than the lock-on.

Miss Bish, 27, of Portsmouth said: “We tried walking in front of the lorries [at Horse Hill] and we were not allowed to do that. We tried awareness raising. It did not work.”

Mr Edwards put it to her: “On 16th October you had made your point without having a lock-on.”

Miss Bish replied: “We were prevented from making our protest on that day.”

“You were forcibly removed”, Mr Edwards said.

“Yes”, Miss Bish replied.

“You felt aggrieved at your treatment on 16th October”, Mr Edwards said. “You felt you had been unceremoniously tipped out of the way after a matter of seconds. You felt your method had failed.”

Miss Bish: “Yes it failed on that day.”

Mr Edwards: “You decided to change your tactic. A lock on would make it much harder to remove you.”

Miss Bish: “We didn’t do it specifically because we were assaulted. It was more generally because we were not allowed to protest in any other way.”

Mr Edwards told the court the chimney pot contained concrete and barbed wire, which he said was designed to slow down the specialist police protest removal team.

Miss Gibson, 30, of Southampton, told the court “There was some thick wire which had some barbs on it. I beat them down with a hammer. There were no barbs sticking out. If there were barbs I didn’t see them”.

The court heard the lorry was delivering barite, which is used in drilling mud.

Mr Edwards put it to both women that their protest had been designed to obstruct activities at Horse Hill.

“The chemicals delivered allowed drilling to continue”, he said. “By preventing delivery you would obstruct operations at the site.”

Miss Gibson said: “We could not prevent any delivery. We could not have known when they were delivering to the site.”

Both women said they chose the location for their protest because the gate was a focal point. They did not believe they had obstructed the highway. They said they took part in the lock-on to attract media coverage and raise awareness.

Miss Gibson said during the lock-on: “There were press releases going out. We got pretty extensive media coverage. It was quite an effective campaign”.

The trial continues tomorrow (Friday 8th May)

[update on 8/5/15 to correct barium to barite]

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