Broadford Bridge lock-on protesters found guilty of besetting

Broadford bridge 170612 lock-on 1

Lock-on protest at Broadford Bridge. Photo: Broadford Bridge Action Group

Two women environmental campaigners who locked themselves together outside the Broadford Bridge oil exploration site in West Sussex have been found guilty under the old law of “besetting”.

Lara Bloch and Sarah McNichol, both 22, said they locked their arms through a concrete-covered tube to raise awareness of drilling at the site near Billingshurst and to attract media attention.

But prosecutors at Brighton Magistrates Court argued this morning that the women intended to cause disruption. Their action delayed operations and cost the site operator, Kimmeridge Oil and Gas Ltd, about £10,000, the court heard.

District Judge Christopher James said the protest, known as a “lock-on”, amounted to besetting, or wrongfully preventing people from carrying out work.

He found the women guilty under section 241 of the Trades Union and Labour Relations Consolidation Act. The women, who had denied the charge, were conditionally-discharged for 12 months and each ordered to pay £500 in compensation, costs and victim’s surcharge.

Announcing his verdict this afternoon, DJ James said:

“You both have deep-seated beliefs but in this case you have strayed over the line into unlawful conduct.”

The case centred on several key issues: whether the women intended to disrupt operations at Broadford Bridge; whether they intended to prevent people entering or leaving the site; and whether there was a loss to the company.

District Judge James said:

“I am sure they did beset the entrance. They did prevent lawful access by others to enter the property and the motive was to protest.

“I am satisfied there are wholly appropriate forms of protest that could be used but this protest aimed to continue disruption for as long as possible.

“It was deliberately designed to obstruct access and interfere with operations of the site.”

The court heard that the women locked-on outside the main gate, off Adversane Lane, at about 6.30am on 12 June 2017. A four-person police protester removal team arrived at about 10am and cut the women free at about 1.30pm.

Kimmeridge Oil and Gas Ltd said in evidence it had expected three deliveries that day. One delivery had to be postponed and the others were delayed. Three vehicles were also due to leave the site. Among them was one of only two specialist trucks of its kind in the UK, the court heard.

Ms Bloch, a student from Oxford, said:

“The main aim was to raise awareness of the drilling taking at the site and to gain media attention.”

She said the BBC and other media outlets had reported the protest:

“We got quite a lot of media coverage. It did raise awareness of what was going on there.”

David Dainty, prosecuting, put it to Ms Bloch:

“The only reason you sat down in the middle of the gate was to stop the trafficking coming in and out.”

“No”, Ms Bloch replied.

District Judge James asked whether she realised that the blockade would stop vehicles at the site. She said there was a second entrance which she thought could be used by deliveries.

The other woman, charity worker Sarah McNichol, from Brighton, said she had found the lock-on device but could not remember where.

She said local protesters, who had been monitoring the use of the alternative access route, had seen vehicles use it to get to the site.

Asked why she continued the lock-on after a police warning that she would be arrested, she said:

“I was not sure that unless we were cut out it would be on the news.”

Mr Dainty put it to her:

“You wanted to get as much disruption as possible. Your purpose was to stop the lorries coming in and out.”

No, Ms McNichol replied.

Stephen Clark, for Ms McNichol, said the Trades Union Act used to prosecute the women had been designed to deal with strikes and picketing.

“If this section of the act is to be used to regulate protests it is for parliament to apply it.”

He dismissed the argument that the women could have used other, less disruptive, forms of protest.

“Otherwise the right to protest would be reduced to the least offensive, which would be the least attractive to media and public attention.”

To be found guilty under the Trades Union Act, prosecutors had to prove repetitious nuisance, not a single occurrence, and an intention to cause a loss, Mr Clark said. The women also needed to have surrounded the site, he said, had hostile intent and induced people to breach a contract.

The women had not surrounded the site, nor had any contact with people inside, Mr Clark said. The intention was to raise awareness, not cause a loss.

Franck Magennis, for Ms Bloch, said:

“There are reasonable doubts that all the elements that the court required have been proved. I invite the court to acquit.”

A spokesperson for Broadford Bridge Action Group said this evening:

“We believe the law has been mis-applied and that the right to protest is diminished by this judgement. These two brave women should be commended for raising awareness about this highly controversial threat to the environment.”

Reporting on this court case was made possible by individual donations from DrillOrDrop readers. You can donate to DrillOrDrop by clicking here or on the donate button in the right-hand panel.

26 replies »

  1. An interesting addition to a students CV Mrs.M-plus the comments from that lady recorded on this site. Do employers research such sources? Oh yes they do. A very costly lesson. Much more than £500 worth.

    (I recall a young co worker who was interviewed. She produced her CV and answered questions showing what a diligent student she had been, and how she had worked hard during University “just for this chance”. She was then shattered when the employer referred to her Facebook posts showing repeated instances of drunkenness at University, and she didn’t think it was “fair.”) A lot of intelligence, not much common sense. She ended up married to a guy who made a fortune out of ripping off the public with installations of wind turbines (£150k net profit each/year-working or not.) Actually, that’s not fair. He ripped off no one, the “alternative/eco warriors” organised the funding and he said thanks very much, and the tax payer paid the bill.

    It’s a funny old world.

    • Fracking will be banned in this country in the near future, these women highlight the fight to attain the ban. They risked prosecution, a criminal record and a “blot” on their CV’s; which goes to show just how much they care about our environment our future and our safety. They are not married to rogue traders as far as we know, are they?

  2. Came across this whilst looking for examples of Watching and Besetting, few and far between i might add. One however that popped up was the efforts to save the trees that were planned to be destroyed to make way for the Newbury Bypass, 9 miles of highway at the cost of 10.000 trees houses and a school for the deaf, and the efforts on both sides to counter each others actions. It makes interesting reading and the costs were astronomical and the law was changed as a result.

    This video was the cutting of an ancient oak to allow for the Newbury Bypass in a curiously ritualistic gathering fashion by the authorities and then when a pair of horses appeared and seemed to be concerned at the cutting of the tree and the presence of the police horses.

    This perhaps displays something of the difference between those who wish to protect nature and our heritage and are prepared to stand up and do so, and those who apparently have no such concern other than expediency to complete a task in hand.

    I am continually made conscious of that apparent deep divide in attitudes and wonder if anything can ever be done to bring these two extremes back together again, and indeed if that is even possible?

    Is there ever a middle way and is the law the only arbiter? i really do not know the answer to that question, my heart says protect the environment, my head says it can be done without dividing the entire country, neither seems extreme, but then i am not so deeply ensconced in either camp that i cannot see the other side, even if it is so very far away, that dichotomy is perhaps a microcosm of the present situational onshore ohandgee macrocosm?

    • Oh so you won’t be using electricity and cooklng on gas…America used to import 25% (that is right 25%) of all of the oil produced in the world. Since they went into Shale they have cut their imports down drastically and even started to export Shale gas. The effect of this loss of the markets on OPEC was oil dropped from about $100 per barrel down to about $50 dollars per barrel. That means that It costs you about £30 less to fill your car every month. It knocks on everywhere else too, Britian is going through a sustained lowest bankrate ever. The price of oil and gas affects you in every way.If you don’t like these benefits, then I suggest that you put the money you are saving from the advent of Shale into a charity . Although I suspect, like many others, you knock the subject without understanding how it is affecting you personally
      But do stop using nylon etc…

      • No one , as you quite rightly say will stop using electricity. New technologies are coming on line faster than shale production and will overtake the need for another fossil fuel, thank goodness. As regards to cooking on gas, clearly there is an alternative; you can cook using electricity you know, conventional methods and microwave.

        But it’s not just about the method, it is more about the level of consumption. Whilst a profit driven company will package their ‘sexy’ energy generation and sell it to you produced by any means, the consumer, through ‘nudge psychology’ will buy it and use it. We are ‘techy’ addicts, not through need, but by marketing.

        To meet the Paris Climate Change Agreements and indeed go further, we need to get this ‘energy is a right’ out of our heads. We need to understand it is a privilege, and not one to be squandered. Use of energy, clean energy generation and less greedy companies/individuals will make for a balance so that needs are met and the place we live not littered with bodies from those who seek to destroy in the name of profit. Capitalism has a place, but not as we know it. We need to stop, reassess and act for a share for all, not just a few.

  3. Kathy-if you don’t know what the protest is about how do you calculate whether the efforts of the ladies was worthwhile or justified? Like Dave, they were several hundreds of miles from the protest they should have been at!

    As Mrs. M pointed out, there is no issue of fracking at this site. There have been a few who have been deliberately misinformed by some who should know better, that it is not the case. But then, people have been “used” by others for centuries. I would advise, DYOR.

  4. [ Edited by moderator]

    I lived in Newbury at the time of the Newbury bypass construction so know what Newbury was like before and after. I will not go into that aspect.

    However, what is FACT is that many more trees were planted during/following construction of the Newbury bypass than were cut down prior to the construction. So, the locals have ended up with a far better environment than they had before-it is a classic example of how much needed development can be done AND the environment enhanced.

    Really interesting how when this is so well defined now as time has moved on, some can still try and Giggle that it happened quite differently. Next we will have ban the wheel, and the snails needed saving.
    [ Edited by moderator].

    • Ha! Ha! Soooooo funny!
      I remember i used to have a clockwork toy when I was a child, it was a little box painted with sandbags with a riveted steel lid.
      When you wound it up and tapped the lid, a little helmeted head with binoculars would slowly raised up the lid and then instantly snap shut again.
      I never thought I would see that in adult life, which only goes to show, if you live long enough all things are possible?

      Always a pleasu……oh, oh, he’s gone again!

  5. 2 x 22yr olds. One a student and one a charity worker. And I get accused of being nasty for stereotyping.
    Anyway, glad they were convicted and sets a stronger tone from the courts [Edited by moderator]

  6. Please concentrate on the intended devastation of people’s health, their happiness, their clean air and pure water, their tourism businesses, their farming businesses and their children’s futures by the evil Frackers and their dodgy cronies!
    This is peaceful protest totally inappropriate against the toxic industry we are having imposed on us by an evil, heartless TORY government!

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