The barrister for a group of anti-fracking campaigners on trial for protests outside the Horse Hill oil site near Gatwick said there was “an abject failure” of policing.
Summing at the end of the five-day case, Laura Collier said the campaigners felt threatened by delivery drivers who, she said, drove aggressively and dangerously on their way to site. Ms Collier said:
“The police gave no protection to the protesters who believed they were acting lawfully.”
The court had heard that the campaigners sought to delay lorries by walking slowly in front of them.
“In their minds slow walking lorries is a lawful activity. There is an obligation on the police to facilitate protest”, Ms Collier said.
She said of the campaigners:
“They felt threatened. They felt in danger. They were assaulted by a driver. There was an abject failure of police who witnessed this first hand to take action about the standard of driving that was so appalling that it must have been criminal.
“Even a police officer was hit by a driver and nothing happened.
“There were no convictions [of the delivery drivers] – but that is the point. The police were doing nothing about it.”
The trial at Redhill in Surrey followed protests outside Horse Hill during flow testing in February and March this year. The court heard evidence that campaigners had carried out direct actions including climbing onto delivery vehicles and taking part in lock-on protests. They deny all the charges which included tampering with a vehicle, obstructing the highway, resisting arrest and criminal damage.
“They acted on the belief that they have a voice”
Ms Collier said:
“These men and women have come together to put themselves in jeopardy of criminal convictions for what they believe to be right. They acted on the belief that they have a voice.
“In the British tradition they took direct action.
“None of them sought to get on vehicles. None sought to do anything but slow walk lorries 0.7 miles [along Horse Hill]. That is all that they set out to do.”
She said one of her clients had slow-walked lorries 250 times without incident.
“They acted peacefully. None of them sought disorder. They only sought to slow walk lorries.
“But due to the combination of aggressive driving and negligent policing it was not safe to do that. Report after report was made to the police and the police showed no interest in protecting them at all.
“These men and women don’t have the money to buy influence, to lobby politicians. They make use of the only power they have: to take to the streets.
“It goes to the reasonableness and proportionality of the decisions that they took in the circumstances in which they found themselves in February and March.”
Why put themselves in great danger?
Jonathan Edwards, summing up for the prosecution, questioned the campaigners’ fear of the delivery driving:
“If they were as worried as they say they were, you might expect them to avoid putting themselves in great danger by placing themselves in the road or on top of vehicles.
“There is no evidence of injury from driving or arrests or prosecutions. The defendants put themselves deliberately in the road in close proximity of large vehicles, which would inevitably create a risk of contact, and then a complaint is made that there is contact.”
“There must be limited visibility from the [lorry] cab and there cannot be a complete abdication of responsibility from people walking in the road with the intention of slowing them down.”
Mr Edwards said the company operating the site, Horse Hill Developments Ltd, and its contractors were conducting a lawful business. He said:
“One of the aims of the protesters was to impede that lawful business by disrupting vehicle movements to and from the site.
“The police are not there to facilitate unfettered access to protest. They are there to maintain order and safety and uphold the law. The circumstances vary and that requires a varying approach by the police.”
He said the campaigners accused of tampering with vehicles were on the vehicles. “These vehicles were on the highway. The only issue is whether they [the campaigners] had a reason to do it.”
On the obstruction charges, he said: “The defendants were on the road, including that area outside the site entrance, and in doing so they were obstructing the free passage along that highway to some degree.”
“The police jumped in our faces immediately”
Earlier today, two campaigners gave evidence of why they locked themselves together through a piece of concrete at the entrance to the site.
One of them, Kim Turner, said:
“Slow walking was very difficult. The police jumped in our faces immediately. I was quite surprised and shaken at the way they were shutting it down.
“I had become more and more frustrated. I found the policing was restrictive and aggressive and as soon as you walked you were issued with warnings. It was really bad. You were not able to make your protest and walk a lorry and give your reasons why you opposed the drilling.
“I had a strong feeling that I wanted to make a protest in a different way. I had not resolved what but I wanted to get the message out.”
She said she was quickly arrested after the lock-on started. A protester removal team cut her out of the concrete.
“Why didn’t you engage with the police?”
Asked by Mr Edwards why she hadn’t tried to engage with the police she said:
“I don’t think that was possible.
“I started to say something about why we were there but the policeman was talking over me so I could not make my statement to my friend’s camera. My impression was that we were going to be arrested.”
Mr Edwards asked: “Why couldn’t you make that protest on the side of the entrance?”
Ms Turner replied: “You would not get any attention. You would not be able to make a protest. It would not be a protest.”
Lack of communciation
The other campaigner in the lock-on, Daniel White, also complained about a lack of communication from the police.
“All they wanted to do was give us the five step appeal. They were trying to get us off the road as soon as possible. They were putting their lives and our lives and other road users at risk.”
Mr Edwards asked whether he had tried to negotiate with the police over the length of the protest.
No, said Mr White.
“Do you accept the location was dangerous?”, Mr Edwards asked.
“Not particularly, no”, Mr White said.
Mr Edwards put it to him: “It was quite a busy road”.
Mr White replied: “There was free flowing traffic at all times.”
“Did you think about alternatives?”, Mr Edwards asked.
Mr White replied: “What else can you do. We tried slow walking and we got aggressively assaulted by lorries. This is the next step.”
Susan Bryant, for Ms Turner, said there was a second entrance to the site that could have been used in an emergency. A lorry was held inside the site for two hours but this was not known to Ms Turner.
Michael Sprack for Mr White said there was insufficient evidence of the impact of the lock-on to HHDL or its contractors.
- The district judge, Andrew Vickers, will give his verdicts at 12 noon on Monday 25 July at South East Surrey Magistrates Court in Redhill.
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