Rathlin Energy, a gas exploration company working in East Yorkshire, sought a bankruptcy order this morning against a leading anti-fracking campaigner.
Lawyers representing the company went to the High Court in London to recover thousands of pounds from Ian Crane, a broadcaster and speaker against fracking and the activities of the onshore oil and gas industry.
Rathlin Energy said the money was owed from the costs of an earlier legal case.
But the judge, Chief Registrar Stephen Baister, adjourned the hearing until January next year for Mr Crane to contest the debt.
After the hearing, a member of Rathlin’s legal team told Mr Crane the cost of the bankruptcy proceedings amounted to more than £5,000 and that alone would be enough to bankrupt him.
Mr Crane said in the light of this comment:
“It has become personal. Rathlin Energy are going for the jugular”.
Mr Crane, a former oil executive, presents the weekly web broadcast Fracking Nightmare, in which he comments on the activities of Rathlin Energy and other onshore drilling companies. He also gives talks to community groups about what he says are the risks of fracking.
Rathlin Energy has consistently said it has not carried out hydraulic fracturing at its sites in East Yorkshire and has no intention of doing so.
Today’s case dates back to 2014. In June that year opponents of Rathlin Energy’s operations built a structure called Crawberry Castle, blocking access to the company’s Crawberry Hill exploration site, near Beverley.
Rathlin Energy asked the High Court for permission to remove the structure and Mr Crane was one of four people named as defendants in the case. A judge granted a possession order and in July 2014 bailiffs evicted protesters and removed Crawberry Castle. Rathlin then sought to recover the costs of the case from Mr Crane and the three other named defendants.
Rathlin’s barrister, Ashley Cukier, said the company was seeking £34,000 plus interest from Mr Crane and asked the judge to make a bankruptcy order.
Mr Crane asked the court to regard Ian Crane as a trust and said he was its executor. But Chief Registrar Baister described this as “nonsense” and said he would grant the order unless Mr Crane confirmed that he was appearing before the court in person.
Mr Crane said he had not received a transcript of the original court case or a breakdown of the costs incurred by Rathlin Energy.
He asked for the default costs certificate to be set aside and the judge adjourned the hearing for 28 days until 20th January 2016.
Mr Crane said after the hearing he was now considering his options. He said:
“Rathlin are looking to neuter me and the rest of the industry is watching to see how this will go down.”
He said if he were made bankrupt he would have to rely on cash donations.
Mr Crane said the government and industry was “prepared to ride rough-shod over anyone who gets in the way”. The lesson from the case was, he said, “to take your action but do not put your name to it.” He added:
“If you have the audacity to challenge the corporation as a private citizen you are running a risk of losing everything that you accumulate but no individual in the corporation has put anything at risk”.
A spokesperson for Rathlin Energy said this evening:
“As far as Rathlin Energy is concerned this is a matter of pusuing costs of the High Court case and nothing else.”
The case continues on 20th January 2016.