Anti-fracking campaigners felt intimidated by the driving of some lorries delivering to the Horse Hill oil site near Gatwick Airport and were unable to protest peacefully, a court heard today.
The campaigners criticised police for failing to prevent dangerous driving and described how they took direct action to protect themselves.
Nine people are on trial following protests outside the site during flow testing in February and March this year. They all deny the charges against them, including obstructing the highway, tampering with a vehicle, criminal damage and resisting arrest.
The court heard that the main form of protest at Horse Hill had been to delay delivery lorries by “slow walking” in front of them.
“I never felt safe”
Jason Medina, one of the five campaigners giving evidence today, said “slow walking” had been tolerated by police at protests at Horse Hill in 2014 and at other sites around the country. But in 2016 the police did not facilitate this form of protest.
He said his girlfriend and a police officer had been hit by lorries delivering to the site. He described the driving generally at Horse Hill as “intimidating, rapid, dangerous”.
“For the entire campaign I never felt safe or secure”, he said.
“My only means of protest was slow walking that had always been available to me until one of my friends’ lives was put in danger.”
The court heard that Mr Medina climbed on top of a tanker. He justified his action by saying:
“If the driver drove at us and continued to get away with it, no one would be able to protest.
“My actions were necessary to prevent someone being hurt.”
While he was on top of the lorry he said: “I spoke to the driver. I agreed a safe distance with the driver. It was the first time he had spoken to anyone who knew what was going on.
“After that that the driving didn’t happen in that way again. No more lives were in danger.”
Mr Medina denied causing a dent on the roof of the cab.
Another campaigner, Paul Doody, told the court the driving was “frightening, intimidating.”
He was arrested on his second day at the protest camp on February 19. He described how a lorry “flew through the junction” of Horse Hill road and ended up on the wrong side of the road, facing an oncoming car”.
He said he disconnected the air pipes to the brakes on the lorry and was arrested soon after for criminal damage.
He said his purpose was to immobilise the lorry:
“I was worried the vehicle was going to hurt someone.
“There is a provision in the law that you are entitled to interfere with a vehicle to make it safe.”
Jonathan Edwards, prosecuting, put it to him:
“You were part of the protester fraternity on that day. You were aggrieved that this lorry was going to the site and you were acting to frustrate the activities of this lorry.”
“There are far more effective ways to immobilise a lorry”, Mr Doody said.
“Was anyone injured?”, Mr Edwards asked.
“Not as far as I am aware”, Mr Doody replied.
He denied he ran over to the lorry and that he tried to run away from the police. He said they told him he would be de-arrested if there was no damage.
“I said ‘Show me what I have damaged’. They were unable to do so. They were making it up as they went along.”
Slow walking “was not safe”
Ben Hewitt, who climbed on a lorry on 11 March, told the court:
“If we slow walked the lorries someone was going to get hurt. It was not a safe thing to do.“
The court had earlier heard police evidence of how he struggled with the protester removal team on top of the lorry. But Mr Hewitt said he panicked.
“I was extremely anxious and worried. They didn’t give me any information. There was a lot of confusion.”
He accused the police of using excessive force and said he was twice refused access to his inhaler.
Mr Edwards suggested the police had tried to talk to him from the ground. Mr Hewitt said it was difficult to hear what was being said and he denied he had crossed to the other side of the cab.
“Would you accept you were in a precarious position?”, Mr Edwards asked.
“I didn’t feel that way. I didn’t feel precarious at all”, Mr Hewitt replied. He said:
“If they had said what they were doing. If they had treated me like a human being I would have come down with them.”
Mr Edwards put it to him: “You resisted as much as possible to make it as difficult as possible”.
Mr Hewitt replied: “No I was panicking. I don’t know why I would resist arrest. I would be arrested whether I resisted or not.
Mr Edwards said: “You tried to delay the tanker as long as possible”.
Mr Hewitt replied “That was not my intention. I didn’t know what was happening. I was just trying to sit up and stay stable until someone told me what was happening”.
Police “didn’t care” about driving
The same day as Mr Hewitt’s protest, Naomi Gurd locked herself to another campaigner in the road outside the Horse Hill site.
She said she had “slow-walked” every lorry to the site since the first week in February. She described the driving as “terrifying” and said the police had to be aware because “they were seeing what we were seeing”. She said “they didn’t seem to care about it”.
Miss Gurd said: “My purpose was to be able to protest. I was angry at see my friend being nearly hit by a lorry.”
Cross-examined by Mr Edwards, she denied she intended to remain in the road for as long as possible. She said the road had already been blocked by a campaigner on top of a lorry.
“Instructions from higher up”
The fifth campaigner to give evidence today, Daniel Woolman, described policing at Horse Hill as “quite erratic” in 2016.
“I never really understood how they intended to police and facilitate the protest.”
He said “I tried to reason with the police. I tried to establish some kind of contact between me personally and them.
“I did mention I had been to other protests and slow-walking had been allowed. It seems to me that they had instructions from higher up that it would not be tolerated at this site.”
Mr Woolam was arrested on 19 February when he tried to slow down a lorry driving into Horse Hill road.
“I was walking down the slip road with my hand in the air indicating to the driver to slow down. He saw me and he slowed down. I don’t remember him stopping.”
Mr Woolman said he was aware of cheering and turned round to see a man on top of the lorry.
He said he had no communication with the police until they arrested him five hours later. He was charged with aiding and abetting tampering with a motor vehicle and later with obstruction of the highway.
The case continues tomorrow for a final day of evidence at South East Surrey Magistrates Court in Redhill. The District judge, Andrew Vickers, has said he does not expect to give his verdict until next week.
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