Anti-fracking campaigner, Tina Rothery, said this afternoon she was delighted to avoid a two-week jail term in Styal Prison.
A judge at Preston Combined Court discharged a ruling that she was in contempt of court and said she would not be sent to jail.
There were cheers inside and outside the court as the outcome became known.
The private hearing, lasting nearly two hours, followed a long-running legal dispute between Ms Rothery and the shale gas, company, Cuadrilla.
The company and several landowners had previously won more than £55,000 legal costs against Ms Rothery in a case dating back to 2014. She was judged to be in contempt of court when she refused at a hearing this summer to complete a questionnaire about her finances.
This afternoon, the company said it would not pursue her for the money.
Ms Rothery said afterwards:
“When Cuadrilla agreed they would not pursue me for the costs unless my circumstances significantly changed then I swore on oath that the financial information I had previously given was the truth”.
Ms Rothery told a crowd of around 300 people gathered outside the court:
“I see this as a victory for truth. I see it as a victory for honesty because corporations have a lot of power and a lot of money.
“I will walk away from here and Cuadrilla will no longer pursue me for the costs.”
Yesterday, Cuadrilla’s lawyers told the media that the hearing was about the contempt of court ruling and that it had been organised by the court, not by the company.
But today’s case was listed as Cuadrilla V Rothery and a lawyer from Eversheds represented the company.
Ms Rothery told reporters:
“It was a private hearing and I can’t tell you everything that went on. But I think that I am allowed to say that the judge drew attention to that misleading statement. As the court made clear, Cuadrilla’s lawyers were in there. Cuadrilla have misled you.”
Cuadrilla said in a statement Ms Rothery could have avoided the threat of jail and said its barrister had been requested to attend by the court.
The case dates back to August 2014 when anti-fracking protesters, including Ms Rothery, occupied a field near one of Cuadrilla’s proposed fracking sites at Preston New Road, Little Plumpton, near Blackpool.
Ms Rothery said today:
“I am really proud of what we did there. It alerted an elderly community to Cuadrilla’s proposals which they would not have known about otherwise.”
Cuadrilla and landowners sought an eviction order for the field and an injunction preventing trespass on sites across the Fylde.
Ms Rothery sought an adjournment to defend the injunction. When the case returned to court she gave no evidence and, as the only named defendant, a proportion of Cuadrilla’s costs were awarded against her.
She said today:
“The first time we were in court I could not match their solicitor.
“This time I had no solicitor and the judge allowed me to speak and to allow express my thoughts out loud. It was a different situation and I felt more in control.”
Asked what happened now, she said:
“Nothing changes for us. We will carry on as we always have.”
Asked if this was a victory for the anti-fracking movement, she replied:
“An anti-fracking victory looks like this country being left untouched.”
Cuadrilla made a statement this afternoon:
“Having previously been found in contempt of Court, Ms Rothery has today attended Court and complied with the Court’s order to provide information as to her financial means, thus purging her contempt.
“She could have easily avoided this situation and avoided yet again wasting court time and taxpayers money.
“A barrister attended Court on behalf of the Judgment Creditors (Cuadrilla and the landowners) as the Court required him to do so.
“The outstanding costs were awarded against Ms Rothery in October 2014 for wasting court time by failing to submit a defence after asking for a time extension in order to do so, the debt will remain unpaid and we will not pursue costs whilst she clearly has no assets to make any payment.
“The position will be kept under review and revisited should Ms Rothery’s financial circumstances change.”
Asked by DrillOrDrop why the case was listed as Cuadrilla versus Tina Rothery, a spokesperson said:
“I do not know why it was listed as such – perhaps as the Contempt of Court issue was related to the original case in which Ms Rothery asked to become a named defendant.”
Green Party life-time membership
This afternoon, the Green Party granted Ms Rothery life-time membership for what it described as her bravery. She had stood for the party at the last general election in Tatton against the then Chancellor, George Osborne.
Joint party leader, Jonathan Bartley, told The Guardian:
“Today marks a great victory for everyone who believes in the right to peaceful protest and the fight against climate change.
“It would have been utterly unjust to jail Tina Rothery, who has shown exceptional courage protecting her community from the threat of fracking. It is an honour to give Tina lifetime Green party membership in recognition of her bravery in the fight to protect our planet.”