Fire has destroyed the home of an anti-fracking campaigner who is being prosecuted by Fylde Borough Council for displaying posters opposing shale gas developments.
John Tootill, of Maple Farm, Westby, woke on Saturday night to find his timber-framed house ablaze. No one was hurt but all that remains of the property is a charred shell. The family lost all its possessions.
Mr Tootill, 63, is due before Blackpool Magistrates next month on 26 charges of displaying unauthorised advertisements at his nursery on Preston New Road. Notices on the road side oppose fracking, including Cuadrilla’s plans to explore for shale gas nearby. Mr Tootill denies all the charges.
Investigations are continuing into the cause of the fire. The initial theory is focussed on an electrical fault.
In a statement, Mr Tootill said:
“This is an awful event. I’m not sure it has really hit me just yet, but honestly, there hasn’t been a tragedy. My children weren’t affected, my partner wasn’t affected: no lives were lost. My dog Alfie was the hero, continually barking until we woke up which enabled us to get out alive. He is amazing.”
“We are unscathed. We’re tired, exhausted and trying to put into plan what we can do next. We’ve spent the day buying essentials like toothbrushes – we literally only have left what we are stood up in.”
“I’ve received so many offers of help and support, it’s most heart-warming and I thank everyone for this. The next few weeks will be spent trying to sort out this mess but I remain grateful that no one was hurt.”
Questions over prosecution
Last week, some members of Fylde Borough Council distanced themselves from the prosecution of Mr Tootill and asked why legal action was being taken.
His barrister, Richard Wald, told an earlier hearing at Blackpool Magistrates Court that some members of the council’s planning committee had connections or interests in Cuadrilla. To proceed with the prosecution, he said, would be an abuse of process.
Cllr Paul Hayhurst, who declared an interest as a county councillor and did not vote on the prosecution, told the Lytham St Anne’s Express:
“There’s signs all over the place against fracking. I think he’s been treated very badly.”
Another councillor, Heather Speak, said:
“I have anti-fracking signs on my land – why have I not been prosecuted yet Mr Tootill has been? I think it’s a disgrace we are taking him to court.”