The trial of nine anti-fracking campaigners arrested at protests at the Horse Hill oil well near Gatwick heard that police tolerated some walking in front of lorries to slow down deliveries to the site.
The commander of the Surrey Police operation, Superintendent Clive Davies, told the third day of the hearing that his officers did allow so-called “slow-walking” protests.
But he admitted police had not discussed how far campaigners would be allowed to walk in front of delivery trucks.
All nine campaigners on trial deny obstructing the highway during protests that coincided with flow tests at the Horse Hill well in February and March 2016.
Supt Davies, the silver commander of the operation, agreed with the prosecutor, Jonathan Edwards, that there was tolerance of slow walking before the police stepped in and removed people from the road.
Paddy Horne, one of the protesters on trial who has been conducting his own defence, asked:
“It would be helpful for a senor police officer to give me an indication, in normal circumstances, where people want to demonstrate by using the public highway, what would be reasonable?”
The Superintendent did not answer. Asked by the district judge, William Ashworth, whether the police had drawn “lines of the road” indicating how far the protesters could walk, the officer replied:
“I don’t think so”.
But he added that he had decided it was too far for campaigners to escort the lorries the whole length of Horse Hill road, which is about a mile.
Supt Davies said he had received daily reports from police liaison officers. The key issue, he said, was whether slow walking was reasonable. If it became unreasonable it would be an offence, he said.
The court heard that Supt Davies had adapted national best practice on arrests at public protest specially for Operation Bayfield at Horse Hill.
He said the five step appeal process, developed by the Association of Chief Police Officers, gave protesters four warnings before they were arrested. He had added a gap between steps three and four to give people more time to reflect before an arrest happened. Officers were briefed on the process and given guideline wording, he said. But he said there were no set period of time between the different stages.
He told the court:
“Using our approach of allowing some time of slow walking recognises the right to protest and a limited obstruction of the highway. Once we were making arrests using the five step process was when it was not reasonable.”
Asked by Mr Horne what he had done to “overtly demonstrate” that people had a right to protest, Supt Davies replied:
“I hope all my officers know about rights and power. In the event that they do not have knowledge, we have enough information in place in the five step appeal that we have already demonstrated due process.”
Today’s session, at South East Surrey Magistrates Court, also heard from a lorry driver who said the protests meant it took him 40 minutes to drive up Horse Hill road to the site. Campaigners alleged he had driven dangerously and accused the police of taking no action.
The hearing was also told that some of the people on trial had not received all four warnings. One gave evidence that he had not heard the warnings. He described how he was arrested immediately after being hit by a truck he was walking next to.
Police video footage showed another campaigner being arrested in less than two minutes. He was moving towards the grass verge, following police instructions, when he was arrested, the court was told. Questioned on this point. Supt Davies said: “If they are complying with the officer, I would not envisage an arrest”.
The case continues tomorrow.
Updated 16/6/16 to correct Operation Bayleaf to Bayfield
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