The risks posed by the oil industry justified a protest outside an exploratory drilling site near Gatwick airport, a court heard this morning.
Two anti-fracking campaigners said the industry was dangerous and its threat to the environment was urgent.
The comments came in statements from Samantha Gibson, of Southampton, and Isabelle Bish, of Portsmouth, at the end of their trial at Guildford Magistrates Court. They denied a charge of obstructing the highway during a lock-on protest outside the gate to the Horse Hill well in Surrey in October last year.
Both argued that their protest had been lawful and justified. Miss Gibson, who is pregnant, told the court:
“Whatever the outcome I have absolutely no regrets. Our protest was proportionate, lawful and essential. Protecting the water is not a crime.
“Any future action I may take will be out of a real acknowledgement of the urgency of the situation and in full knowledge off the dangers of this industry and they will be for all of your children and for my unborn son.”
Miss Bish, who alleged she had been assaulted outside the site a few days before the protest, said:
“Regardless of the outcome of this trial, I will continue to exercise my democratic right to protest peacefully. This is a very dangerous industry and to stand by and do nothing would be unacceptable and my conscience would not allow me to do so.
“Having been violently assaulted at the same location only six days earlier, I strongly urge all people from whatever side of this issue to desist from any violence and urge the authorities to pursue allegations of violence with at least the same enthusiasm and resource as they have pursued our peaceful demonstration.”
Jonathan Edwards, prosecuting, said the women had glued their hands together inside a chimney pot. Police asked them to move several times but they said they were unable to do so. After about four hours they were separated by a specialist police team and arrested.
Mr Edwards said the protest prevented a lorry delivering to the site and therefore caused an obstruction. He said the women intended to remain outside the site indefinitely, until they were removed by the police.
“They designed the lock-on to delay removal for as long as possible” he said. “It is not reasonable to protest in the way that they did”.
Laura Vernon-Collier, for the two women, said there was a lawful excuse for their protest.
“We live in a democracy but that does not mean that the democracy is always perfect. And the will of the people is not always done”, she said. “Five million people voted Green and UKIP in the election but those parties gained only two seats. There is a real democratic deficit in this county.
She added: “Big oil companies with millions, billions of dollars behind them can buy influence. The harm that these companies cause in conventional and unconventional exploration for oil and gas is as demonstrable as it is inevitable.
“There is no political appetite to regulate these companies so where does that leave Miss Bish and Miss Gibson?
“They felt it was unconscionable to sit by and do nothing. They sat outside the gate on 16th October and they say they are assaulted by a person they assume to be the site owner. They go back on 22nd October and make sure they cannot be moved without police assistance and when the police offered assistance they cooperated
“They had lawful excuse for acting in the way that they did on 22nd October”.
But District Judge Adrian Turner rejected this argument. He said there were “much worse democracies out there”.
He told Miss Bish and Miss Gibson: “Your sincerity and your convictions are not in doubt ladies”. But he said they had caused an obstruction without lawful authority.
“What is source for the goose is source for the gander”, he said. “There are all sorts of people out there who would claim the same rights that you have claimed”. If these rights were allowed it would, he said, result in anarchy.
DJ Turner fined both campaigners £75 and ordered them to pay costs of £200 each and a victim surcharge of £20 each.