Law firm advised slow-walking protests are legal, court told

Horse Hill Protests

Picture: David Burr

A man arrested during protests at the Horse Hill oil well near Gatwick said he had received legal advice that he would not be committing an offence if he walked in front of lorries delivering to the site.

The anti-fracking campaigner, described as Daniel Nye, was giving evidence on the fourth day of his trial for obstructing the highway.

He and eight other campaigners deny charges that during February and March this year they obstructed Horse Hill road near Horley by so-called “slow-walking protests” in front of delivery lorries.

Mr Nye, who asked to be referred to as Master Lion, said a few weeks before he was arrested he had contacted the London law firm, Bindmans, which specialises in human rights. He said:

“A solicitor at Bindmans said it was OK to walk in the road”.

Master Lion said he could not remember the person’s name and they had not been called to give evidence in his defence.

On the day of his arrest, Master Lion said he felt bullied and harassed by police. He said they were trying to undermine his rights to freedom of expression and assembly under the Convention on Human Rights.

Master Lion was heard on video telling a police officer who warned he would be arrested ‘You are getting on my nerves’. In his defence, Master Lion said: “My understanding was he was acting unlawfully.”

Asked by Jonathan Edwards, prosecuting, why he had walked in the road rather than the grass verge, Master Lion said the Highway Code allowed pedestrians to walk in the road if there was no footway. Mr Edwards said other protesters had walked on the verge. Master Lion said this was dangerous because it was slippery.

The court also heard that before his arrest, Master Lion has contacted the Environment Agency and Police Liaison Officers about a smell, which he said was coming from the Horse Hill site during flow tests. The Environment Agency had said “there was nothing to worry about”, he told the court.

“Illegal site”

Paddy Horne, another protester giving evidence today, described Horse Hill as an illegal site. It did not have valid permits, he said, because “the site operator had not engaged with people who had a legitimate interest in its activities”.

Mr Horne, who represented himself, said he had taken part in protests against oil and gas exploration at Balcombe in 2013, Barton Moss in 2014 and also previously at Horse Hill.

Asked by Mr Edwards why he was walking in front of lorries Mr Horne replied it was the “done thing”. He said:

“It has been the done thing for at least three years. It seems to me it is custom and practice.”

“I understand these circumstances could put a strain on the police service”, he said, but added, “there is widespread opposition across classes and the political spectrum”.

Mr Horne told the court the atmosphere on the day of his arrest was tense and he thought the police were exasperated by the form of the protest at Horse Hill.

He said one minute and 45 seconds elapsed between when he was approached by police to move off the road and when he was arrested.

He said he had not caused an obstruction of the highway. But if there was an obstruction it was only limited. And if there was an obstruction, there was a lawful excuse because he had a right to protest.

Mr Edwards commented: “You have pretty much covered all bases there.” Mr Edwards asked:

“Are you prepared to accept that by virtue of the lorry being slowed that was causing an obstruction?”

Mr Horne replied:

“A pedestrian being on the carriageway, or a cyclist, will lead to traffic changing speed. What is an obstruction is somewhat ambiguous.”

Mr Edwards put it to him that there were alternatives forms of protest to walking in front of lorries

Mr Horne replied:

“My purpose was to make a fuss about something I believed to a grave danger because oil and gas companies are trying to crowbar their way into our communities without those communities being properly spoken to and involved to engage with what is being proposed or planned.”

The district judge, William Ashworth, asked him when would a reasonable obstruction become unreasonable.

Mr Horne replied: “It would depend on the circumstances.”

But he said he believed that walking in front of trucks the length of Horse Hill road, which is about a mile, could be achieved in 15 minutes and this would be proportionate.

He also told the court he was concerned about smells from the site, what he called the “deafness of police” to any complaints and the demeanour of lorry drivers delivering to Horse Hill. He said he had experienced “psychological trauma caused by policing failing to carry out their duty to facilitate peaceful protest”. He also alleged there had been a misuse of police resources and a politicisation of the police.

Mr Edwards put it to him that he was taking part in a direct action.

Mr Horne replied: “I really don’t know the meaning of direct action”

But he said: “If we gather at a drilling site and we express our concerns loudly, persistently and resolutely then our message will get across.”

“Protest was reasonable”

The court also heard the defence of Stephen Jackson, who said before his arrest he was distributing leaflets about a local public meeting on Horse Hill to drivers stuck behind a lorry which was being “slow-walked”. He described as “agony” the injury he received when officers handcuffed him.

He said:

“I was not part of the lorry protest. I just happened to get at the back of the walkers. I was expressing my right to freedom of protest.”

In an answer to a question by Mr Edwards, he said believed the police had been unreasonable but his presence in the road had been reasonable.

“Chaotic arrest”

Another protester on trial, David Powter, said he wanted to raise public awareness against hydraulic fracturing. “We were carrying out a peaceful protest which I believed at the time I had a right to do”, he said.

Asked about communications between the police and protesters he said: “I got the impression that the police were not being very cooperative.”

He described the moments leading up to his arrest as chaotic.

“There are people banging drums. There are people shouting. The police are shouting. This lorry driver gave me the impression he would happily mow me down.”

He said he was arrested after he stepped into the road to avoid a car next to the verge.

Mr Edwards put it to him that the road was busy and walking in front of lorries was dangerous.

“That risk is present every time you cross the road”, he replied.

“Slow walking acceptable”

Neil Lamonby said he went to Horse Hill to support two women anti-fracking campaigners who were alone outside the site.

Minutes before his arrest, he said, he had heard a sergeant say that slow walking was acceptable.

He had been accused by police of being confrontational and he admitted he was embarrassed to watch the police video. But in his defence he said he believed the police were “out to arrest him”. He said he felt he was being “rail-roaded” when an officer “abruptly came into my space”.

He accused the officer of manhandling him. “Anyone in that situation would have found it hard to deal with”, he said.

The case continues tomorrow at South East Surrey Magistrates Court in Redhill.

DrillOrDrop reports from Day 1Day 2 and Day 3 of the trial

DrillOrDrop always welcomes comments on posts. In order to keep the comments area safe and legal, DrillOrDrop has a new commenting policy which you can read here.

8 replies »

  1. Oh come on Ruth fair go.

    Your headline boldly reports Master Lion received legal advice relating to his subsequent arrest for his so-called peaceful orotest yet he can’t even remember the legal advisers name, nor was the supposed law firm representative called as a support witn9.

    Talk about sensationalistic, biased reporting.

    How about reporting on facts instead of pot-stirring

    • Ruth Hayhurst claim’s she is INDEPENDENT! But when she interviewed me in 2013 in Balcombe Tea Room…i asked her what her thought’s on Fracking were! She replied “I would not want it happening near my home!” (Lewes) On twitter Ruth often tag’s Julie Wassmer in Tweets re;Fracking…Wassmer being a Anti Fracking protestor! I have asked Ruth to retweet PRO Fracking tweets but she NEVER doe’s!!!

  2. Has anyone Seen a ‘pro fracking’ tweet’? Except from maybe a politician (why would they think it’s a good idea? Prob cos they believe what the oil&gas companies tell them!)

  3. Helen – perhaps those that are not anti fracking do not use TwitFace etc.? There seem to be several contributors to this BB who support the industry?

  4. I think it is a very fitting and appropriate headline.

    For the record, I too consulted with a solicitor at Bindmans (and I do still know their name lol), as it was so obvious to me that the police were acting with complete disregard of the context when they were enforcing the 1980 Road Traffic Act sect 137, as well as having total disregard for the ECHR Article 10 & 11 Rights, as well as paying no heed to all their own guidelines for policing peaceful protests.

    The advice I was given was that if I were arrested for obstructing the highway, whilst exercising my right to protest, as long as I was behaving in a ‘reasonable manner’ (i.e. not being unruly or behaving in a threatening manner), the most likely outcome would be either charges dropped before a court case proceeding (as I have already experienced twice), or being found ‘not guilty’ at court.

    In both those scenarios, the solicitor envisaged that the bringing of a civil case against the Surrey Police for compensation for an unlawful arrest would follow the conclusion of the criminal charges.

    It looks to me that as the judicial system is repeated upholding and affirming our right to peacefully protest, this invasive industry is dead in the water before it has even begun.

  5. In relation to the assertion earlier in this thread the Ruth’s reporting for D or D is not as independent as she claims, because she apparently once said ‘I would not want it near my home’ .

    For me this brought to mind the Health Commissioner for New York City, who was asked to make a call on whether fracking could be done safely enough in NY State…
    …..obviously he had to approach the matter from a totally neutral and objective point of view.

    After a comprehensive study of all the peer reviewed scientific reports relating to health effects on populations in fracking zones, he declared the risk to human health was too great, and in his summing up when he made the announcement he said: “I had to ask myself the question – would I want my kids to live near a fracking site? And the honest answer was ‘NO’ ”

    It also brings to mind the Exxon Chief Exec in the States who is very clearly PRO fracking… …and yet even he clearly didn’t want it near his home, as he joined a lawsuit to try to stop it!

    So the bottom line is, who in their right mind would want a cracking site near their home?
    …be they pro, anti, or neither?

    And suffice to say, Ruth’s claim to ‘independent reporting’ stands up to scrutiny well enough for me.

Add a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s