An anti-fracking group has called for a public statement by Fylde Council after it dropped its prosecution over signs opposing Cuadrilla’s proposed Preston New Road shale gas site near Blackpool.
The Preston New Road Action Group described the prosecution of John Tootill for unauthorised advertising as a “scandal of the highest order”.
The council said in a press release the prosecution was not in the public interest after a fire destroyed Mr Tootill’s home at Westby just over a week ago. Link to post
A council spokesperson said today:
“Because of the devastating fire at Mr Tootill’s home, we no longer feel that it is in the public interest to continue the case.”
“Obviously this will be a difficult time for Mr Tootill and we would not wish to add to those difficulties.”
The council had alleged that Mr Tootill displayed 26 unauthorised adverts at Maple Tree Nursery on Preston New Road. The case was due to go before Blackpool Magistrates Court on 19 May.
Mr Tootill denied all the charges. His legal team had alleged an abuse of process in bringing the prosecution. His barrister, Richard Wald, told an earlier court hearing that some members of the Fylde council’s development management committee had connections with or interests in Cuadrilla.
The council spokesperson said:
“We had been in the process of considering the detailed legal arguments raised by Mr Tootill’s representatives, but this was overtaken when news of the fire came through.”
He said the future of the case had been discussed by senior officers and then put before senior councillors.
“Everyone felt it was the appropriate decision in the circumstances”.
He said it was not a legal manoeuvre and there were no plans to bring a new prosecution against Mr Tootill. Many of the signs had been removed, he said.
The prosecution followed a complaint from a member, or members, of the public, the spokesperson said. “We don’t have the resources to go out and proactively look for adverts”, he said. But he was unable to say how many complaints there had been.
Preston New Road Action Group, the community group opposing Cuadrilla’s fracking plans, said it was “over the moon on John Tootill’s behalf”. It described the decision as a “humiliating climb down for Fylde Borough Council”. But the group said it was also confused.
“If Fylde’s action was indeed in the public interest, nothing has changed.”
“We want to see the reasons they have withdrawn their action. We want to know how this decision was taken. We want to know how the original decision to prosecute was taken.”
The group said it wanted to know whether the decision had involved Trevor Fiddler, the chair of the Development Management Committee, who in 2012 had received a payment for access to his land for seismic surveying. “His financial involvement means he should have taken no part at all on this matter”, the group said.
“This remains a scandal of the highest order. John Tootill was in our view, persecuted and victimised for political reasons. At the least we need a full public statement to explain Fylde Borough Council’s actions.”