The executive chairman of the company behind the so-called Gatwick Gusher oil well failed to give evidence in court today at the trial of nine anti-fracking campaigners.
Stephen Sanderson, of UK Oil & Gas Investments PLC, had been called as a prosecution witness in a case arising from protests outside the Horse Hill site during flow testing in February and March this year.
But when the five-day trial resumed this morning in Guildford the court heard that he would not be attending because he was having emergency dental treatment and then had a flight to catch.
Jonathan Edwards, prosecuting, said Mr Sanderson had made a statement about the financial loss experienced by the company when two opponents of operations at Horse Hill locked themselves together outside the entrance gate on 18 March.
He asked for this statement to be given in evidence in Mr Sanderson’s absence. But barristers representing the campaigners said the statement relied on hearsay.
Susan Bryant, for Kim Turner, said: “We have no idea where it comes from”. Michael Sprack, for Daniel White, said the statement referred to an invoice that had not been provided to the defence.
District Judge Andrew Vickers said he was not satisfied that Mr Sanderson was unable to attend court and he refused to allow the statement to be used in evidence.
Cost of delay
Some details about the invoice were given by Andrew Court, who organised lorry movements at the Horse Hill site. He said a tanker operated by BKP had been held up for two hours by the protest. The company had submitted a bill for “between £1,100 and £1,200 plus VAT”.
Ms Bryant suggested the invoice did not refer to delay or demurrage (charges for extra use). But Mr Court explained that he checked all invoices and said: “That is what the charges would have been for”.
He said the haulage company invoiced for a minimum of 10 hours. Ms Bryant put it to him that the cost was about £90 an hour and that Mr Court was paying invoices with a value of about £13,500 a week to BKP. Mr Court replied: “That is what you said. I am not going to confirm it”.
Mr Sprack suggested the invoice represented only about 10% of the weekly bill to BKP. Mr Court said: “In my opinion £1,000 was a lot of money”. He said he did not know the terms of the contract with BKP or if lawyers for the oil site had looked at whether it should pay for the delay.
Mr Court also told the court he had not asked the campaigners to leave the entrance because they were on the highway. They were, he said, the responsibility of the police, not the company. He also said lorry drivers had been told to drive safely and obey the rules of the road but once they left the site they were under the authority of the police.
Cross-examined by Laura Collier representing the seven other campaigners on trial, Mr Court said a lorry driver had brought a child on to the site but it was not the driver of the vehicle delayed by the protest on 18 March.
The trial also heard evidence from another driver, Wojciech Nowachi, about two different protests.
Mr Nowachi, employed by Regional Waste Recycling in east London, said he was delivering a 44-tonne tanker of fresh water to the site on Friday 19 February when a campaigner disconnected an air brake pipe on his vehicle. On 16 March when he was leaving the site, another campaigner climbed on to the tanker and had to be removed by police.
Ms Collier, for Paul Doody, put it to Mr Nowachi that the brake pipe was disconnected in the February incident because campaigners were frightened by the way he was driving. He had, she said, failed to stop at a Give-Way sign and nearly collided with a car.
Mr Nowachi replied: “I didn’t speak to anyone and no one said anything to me about this”.
Ms Collier said: “You were using your vehicle to bully protesters.”
“No” Mr Nowachi replied.
“This happened on a number of occasions”, Ms Collier said.
“No”, Mr Nowachi replied.
Ms Collier said that on 16 March, Mr Nowachi’s vehicle had “made contact” with a woman campaigner on the way to the site. “You were driving too closely”, she said.
“I was driving slowly”, Mr Nowachi said. “I was keeping a distance but sometimes they [campaigners] got too close to the truck. If someone got too close to the truck I could hit someone”.
“I suggest you did hit someone on 16 March”, Ms Collier said.
“No I didn’t hit anyone”, Mr Nowachi replied.
Ms Collier said Jason Medina, the campaigner who climbed on the tanker roof, had talked to Mr Nowachi.
“He said he thought your driving was dangerous and you needed to slow down”, she said.
Mr Nowachi replied: “I was driving very carefully and the police have everything on tape and I have a camera in the truck.”
Mr Nowachi alleged that Mr Medina jumped between the tanker and the cab several times and this caused a dent in the cab roof. Under cross-examination, he admitted that he had not checked the roof before the incident, only afterwards.
The court also heard police statements about the arrival in custody of another campaigner, Daniel Woolman. He had been arrested about five hours after a man was seen in front of a lorry delivering to the site. Ms Collier said the evidence linking Mr Wooman to that incident was tenuous. But District Judge Vickers said there was a case to answer and Mr Woolman’s trial should continue.
All nine campaigners deny the charges against them, which include obstructing the highway, tampering with a vehicle, resisting arrest and criminal damage.
The trial resumes on Monday at South East Surrey Magistrates Court in Redhill when the defence will make their cases.
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