Legal

“Dangerous and intimidating” driving prevented peaceful protest at Horse Hill oil site, court told

Redhill magistratds

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.

“Frightening driving”

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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15 replies »

  1. Heroes’ in a “mob”, gutless, lying wonders when having to account for their actions.

    As if the police are going to allow lorry drivers to commit dangerous and intimidating driving when confronted by this mob of misfits.

    Truly hope the law hits these poor excuses for human beings right where it hurts them most……….in their hip pocket.

  2. “I disconnected the lorries AIR BRAKES!” ” I was worried someone would get hurt!” Just about say’s it all about all about a thick anti fracking protestor,with not a thought about Public Safety! 5 years in Clink may help him think!

  3. The EU court supported the right to slow walk in a protest. Not the right to do this to every vehicle every day for two months. Your abuse of this will contribute to removing the right to protest.

    Your “anti fracking” campaign is at a conventional oil site. Just like the other 1200 conventional wells that have been drilled and explored. Some are successfully producing income and the taxes on that are helping our economy.

    Wytch farm in Dorset is quietly safely working in one of the most scenic parts of the U.K. and you would not know its there. Stockbridge in Hampshire is pumping away. Nearby fishermen are catching trout and salmon on fly rods in the river test.

    Your fake protest put people in danger , blocked roads for hours, makes earning valuable income for the UK harder.

  4. I’ve been hit three times slow walking fracking lorries. I’ve needed medical attention twice & been hospitalised once by dangerous driving at these sites.

    Police never take action. Any suggestion the defendants in this case are lying is untrue & unfounded. I’m sure when they get their Not Guilty verdicts next week that those that have suggested they are lying will apologise on this thread ?

    Cheers
    #frackoff

    • ” They deny all charges, including tampering with a vehicle “, yet Paul Doody earlier admitted to disconnecting a trucks air brakes.

      Come on Gadget get real. Society has had enough of your pathetic actions and disruptions.

      A guilty verdict with charges and heavy fines coupled with a change of law prohibiting this form of dangerous action should be effected.

  5. I am shocked at the lack of safety for the protectors! Police should be utterly ashamed at how they allowed the drivers to put lives in danger!!!

    • If these “protectors” were not there they would be in no danger. The law needs changing to ban this slow walk as it is a clear Health & Safety risk, and incurs costs to a company going about it’s lawful business. I’m sure you will all agree with me…..

  6. All these BS protest disguise as the protector start to sound faky. They can still protest on the side of the road and get their message across without disturbing or disruption of the lorry And save us a lot of legal cost and time.

  7. The law clearly allows of peaceful protest and acknowledges that a protest will cause delay and inconvenience. What is being interpreted somewhat inconsistently by the police is what degree of delay/inconvenience is acceptable. On a legal point, a charge of obstructing the highway does not necessarily stand where there is only delay.
    Consider the protest when hauliers drove very slowly along the motorways (blocking all three carriageways) it is exactly the same principle, yet we did not see all the drivers in court.
    And without people standing up and protesting many of us would not enjoy the benefits and rights we enjoy and take for granted today, including employment laws and equality.
    Had the public not protested and objected, once the Preese Hall 12 month moratorium had been lifted, fracking would have progressed quickly. The scrutiny this industry is being put under, including monitoring etc would not have happened without objection and protest. And given what has happened in the US, Australia, Canada and elsewhere, surely that has to be a good thing. The NERC report clearly stated that further research was required and that there are still gaps in the UK regulations.

    • Yes the right to protest and scrutiny in a democracy is a must but clearly it can be and has been achieved by non disruptive and hazardous means shown by the protesters. And the argument the protesters has the right to walk on a motorway to delay the traffic is preposterous the motorway is for car to run on not to walk on.

  8. Of course the Police have never been known to act in a partisan way or lie and close ranks. The people involved in the Hillsborough tragedy can vouch for that. I also remember the miners’ strike when the Police were used as a weapon against their own citizens and at least one protester was killed by a lorry.

  9. If one of these slow walk protestors is run over / killed by a lorry whose fault is it? Seems like Gadget may be the first to go this way. A simple risk assessment would quickly tell you that the risk of being killed is a lot higher doing this than if you were not there? A candidate for the almost made it to a “Darwin Award”? Perhaps she / he should do something useful in life – get a job perhaps? And save their own life.

    The Law needs changing, slow walking protests should be banned as a risk to life and health and safety, perhaps the Government will get round to it when Brexit is completed.

    If you don’t want shale gas / fracking vote the Government out. The fact that a pro shale gas Government was elected is a good indication that the antis are in a minority. A hard core group of serial protesters, usually no fixed abode, no jobs, befefits etc. and people who live near potential sites (the latter objecting can be understood).

    • The good news for Horse Hill is the reserves upgrade:

      Upgrade to Portland Oil in Place at Horse Hill. UK Oil & Gas Investments PLC announces a new petrophysical analysis by Nutech. This, it says, demonstrates a threefold increase in calculated total oil in place per square at the Horse Hill well in the Upper Portland. The analysis upgrades the oil in place from 7.7 million barrels (MMbbl) to 22.9 MMbbl per square mile – a 200% increase.

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