The policing of protests at the Horse Hill oil site near Gatwick came under scrutiny at the trial of nine anti-fracking campaigners today.
The court heard how opponents of onshore drilling delayed lorries arriving and leaving the site on the edge of Horley by walking in the road.
Video footage showed largely peaceful but often noisy protests. One police officer described how protesters took it in turns to walk in front of the trucks. A lorry driver delivering to the site said protesters were “all over the road” and it took him 20 minutes to cover 600 metres.
Eight men and a woman deny obstructing the highway in protests during flow testing at the well between February and March this year.
On the second day of the trial, police described how they used a five-step warning system before arresting protesters. They said the process, outlined in a leaflet given to officers, was designed to allow protesters time and space to reflect on their actions to avoid unnecessary arrests.
The court heard that protesters were asked four times to leave the road before they were arrested.
But the protesters questioned whether Surrey Police implemented the process according to the rules. Under cross examination, one officer, PC Steve Munday, said he had not used the exact words in the leaflet when he reached step two with a protester, Thomas Burke. They were, he said, only guidance for officers.
Defence barrister Sadaf Etemadi suggested to another officer that two protesters had been mixed up and that Mr Burke had not received all the warnings before his arrest.
PC Wheeler replied: “I do not believe that to be the case.
Laura Collier, for Stephen Jackson, put it to another officer, PC Sturdy:
“You barely took a breath between steps one and two and between two and three.”
PC Sturdy said Mr Jackson had not replied after each warning.
Ms Collier said: “Steps one, two and three were run through like a continuous sentence. It sounded like one long warning”.
“I cannot say what other people were thinking”, PC Sturdy said.
In the arrest of Daniel Nye, Emma Fitzsimmons, defending, said there was only a three second gap between steps four and five.
PC Sturdy was asked whether this was an appropriate amount of time. He replied:
“It would depend on the circumstances and the risks posed by the people involved.”
Right to protest
Paddy Horne, a protester conducting his own defence, questioned whether police officers had been trained in the right to peacefully protest.
He asked the police officer who arrested him: “Do you recall in your training or in the morning briefing that under certain circumstances that obstruction is reasonable.”
PC Cox replied: “I cannot recall that”.
Mr Horne asked:
“Can you remember anything about the rights of citizens to exercise freedom of speech?”
PC Cox said: “I don’t think I can answer that question”.
District Judge William Ashcroft asked the officer:
“There is a right to freedom of speech and limited obstruction may be acceptable. Was that discussed?”
PC Cox replied: “No.”
PC Cox also accepted, under questioning by Mr Horne, that he was not aware of what was described as an “overt demonstration” by Surrey Police of the right of people to peacefully protest.
The court heard that a man was struck by a lorry delivering to the road to the site and one man arrested was injured when he was handcuffed. It also heard evidence that police had not introduced traffic calming measures to reduce traffic speeds on the road to the site and that different officers had different understandings of the speed limit on the road.
UK Oil land Gas, an investor in Horse Hill, has said there has been no high volume hydraulic fracturing. Opponents of operations at the site have said they are concerned that fracking will be carried out in future.
The trial at South East Surrey Magistrates Court in Redhill continues tomorrow at 10am.
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Thank you for the report.
Even without the ECHR issues that are obviously in play, the defence team should be absolutely hammering the police on these arrests.
The 1980 Road Traffic Act Section 137 reads: ‘Causing a wilful obstruction of the highway, without lawful authority or lawful excuse’….
….but not one officer I spoke to there (and I spoke to many) could tell me how a ‘lawful excuse’ was defined for the purposes of the 1980 RTA, and none of them had even a clue as to what kind of activity may constitute a ‘lawful excuse’ for the purposes of section 137 of the Act.
(a ‘lawful excuse’ is defined in legal terms as ‘any activity which is lawful in itself, and is carried out on a reasonable manner’ ..
.. LIKE PEACEFUL PROTEST FOR INSTANCE ! )
(anyone can find that out with 3 mins on Google lol)
It was the most shambolic policing I have witnessed over 3 years of attending anti-fracking protests.
Brilliant expose of how the police don’t know the laws they are supposed to be policing. Many protestors have now done the legal training for campaigners and it is amazing how lawful protesting in this country has been prevented or even stopped, due to so many unlawful arrests and badly trained police officers who are failing to take account of the laws of legal protest. This could be interpreted as a deliberate subversion of democracy by some police and hopefully this court case will redress the imbalance of power and stop the abuse of police power in future.