Eight anti-fracking campaigners have been found guilty of a range of offences following protests outside the Horse Hill oil exploration site near Gatwick Airport. Another campaigner was cleared of obstruction.
After a five-day trial, district judge Andrew Vickers conditionally discharged five of the campaigners. One received an absolute discharge and another a fine of £100. Sentence was postponed on the final campaigner who did not attend the trial and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
DJ Vickers said the case was not about fracking, although it was relevant to the beliefs of the people on trial. He said the campaigners had a right to freedom of expression and assembly. The case centred on whether their actions in opposing the company operating at Horse Hill had been reasonable.
The court had heard that four campaigners had climbed on to lorries delivering to the Horse Hill site during flow testing in February and March. Two pairs of campaigners had taken part in lock-on protests, where they secured their arms together through tubes.
The prosecution had argued that these actions had been designed to disrupt operations at the site. The defence had given evidence that dangerous driving by some delivery lorries had prevented campaigners from walking slowly in front of vehicles, which they believed to be a lawful protest. The campaigners said police officers had not taken action against these drivers.
One of the campaigners who climbed on a delivery vehicle disconnected airlines to the brakes, disabling the vehicle. The court had heard that on 19 February Paul Doody had been concerned that the driver of this vehicle had narrowly avoided a collision with a car.
Announcing the verdict, DJ Vickers said:
“My view is that he was frustrated by the driving and he thought this would be an opportunity to make the vehicle inactive. His tampering with the vehicle was unlawful. I am not satisfied he was acting for the good of others.”
The judge said Mr Doody’s action was potentially dangerous and unjustified. He fined him £100 and ordered him to pay a total of £150 in costs.
Ben Hewitt climbed onto a vehicle on March 11 and had to be removed by a specialist police team. DJ Vickers said the vehicle could not move without endangering Mr Hewitt’s life and this was unreasonable. Mr Hewitt received a conditional discharge for tampering with a vehicle and resisting arrest. He was ordered to pay a total of £100 in costs.
The district judge also said a woman who climbed up at the same time as Mr Hewitt had also behaved unlawfully. But he said her obstruction had been relatively momentary because she was quickly removed by police. She received an absolute discharge and no order for costs.
Jason Medina also climbed in a delivery vehicle after he became more and more concerned about what was described as “dangerous, reckless and undisciplined driving”. DJ Vickers said Mr Medina had been “wound up” by one driver whose behaviour “could have amounted to assault”.
The judge said he was satisfied that Mr Medina’s movement on the vehicle had caused a dent in the cab. He imposed a conditional discharge for the damage but because it was cosmetic did not make an order for compensation. Mr Medina was also ordered to pay costs of £100.
Naomi Gurd, KimTurner and Daniel White, who took part in the lock-on protests, also received a conditional discharge and were ordered to pay costs totalling £100. The fourth lock-on campaigner did not attend the hearing. DJ Vickers said he was not prepared to sentence Nicholas Grant in his absence.
On the acquitted campaigner, DJ Vickers said:
“I am not satisfied that the crown has shown that his behaviour amounted to wilful obstruction and it was unreasonable. I dismiss the allegation.”
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