Three environmental campaigners who blocked the entrance of the Broadford Bridge oil exploration site in West Sussex were found guilty this afternoon under trades union legislation. But one of them who took part in a similar protest a few weeks later was acquitted of the same offence.
Brighton Magistrates Court heard that Charlie Feasey, Conor Hefey and Daniel White locked their arms together through concrete-covered tubes outside the entrance to the site near Billingshurst.
They said their action, which began at about 7am on 5 June 2017, was a response to a refusal by police to allow slow walking, another form of protest often used by opponents of oil and gas operations.
Sussex Police had designated a safe section of road about a mile from the Broadford Bridge site where officers said they would allow protesters to walk slowly in front of lorries.
But Conor Hefey, 25, of no fixed address, said:
“When I tried to protest in the safe zone I was chased by a police officer about a mile down the road. He threatened to arrest me and then shoved me in a hedge.”
Daniel White, 23, of the Broadford Bridge Protection Camp, said an 83-year-old woman had been arrested when she tried to slow walk a lorry.
31-year-old Charlie Feasey, from Crawley, said of the lock-on protest:
“This was an action that meant the police would not be able to stop us from protesting so quickly.”
David Dainty, prosecuting, said a specialist police team arrived at the lock-on at 11.15am and released the protesters at about 1.45pm.
He said the site operator, Kimmeridge Oil and Gas (KOGL), had to postpone a delivery of diesel to Broadford Bridge as a result of the protest. A truck removing waste from the site had been delayed leaving. The road outside the site, Adversane Lane, was closed for several hours, leading to diversions and delays for motorists.
Mr Dainty said the protest amounted to the old crime of “besetting” under section 241 of the Trades Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act. He said by lying in front of the site entrance locked together the protesters had prevented access to the site for several hours. He said:
“Their actions amounted to the unlawful interference of KOGL’s operation.”
The three campaigners denied they had deliberately tried to disrupt operations at the site or prevent people entering or leaving the site. They said they were not aware of any deliveries to the site that day. They said they were trying to protest peacefully, exercising their human rights, to raise awareness of what was happening at Broadford Bridge.
Their barrister, Emily Baxter, said there were doubts about what disruption had been caused and what impact it had on the site. She said the road had remained open until the police came and the closure may not have been necessary.
Mr White also denied breaching trades union legislation at a similar protest on 29 June 2017. He told the court he had put his arms in a device but had not actually locked-on. He left the scene before police arrived. He said at no time did anyone tell him that vehicles were being prevented from arriving or leaving.
Mr Dainty said the disruption on that occasion was minimal compared with the 5 June protest but the court needed to consider the cumulative impact.
Christopher James, the district judge hearing the case, said he was not sure about how long the 29 June protest had continued, how much disruption there had been or whether Mr White had been asked to leave. He found Mr White not guilty on that charge.
But on the 5 June protest he said:
“I am sure they were besetting.”
Finding the three protesters guilty, he said:
“There has been sustained interference and there has been a clear case of preventing a business from operating lawfully.
“There was a deliberate blockade and they did not desist when asked to move.”
DJ James said of the three:
“You are genuine protesters who have long-held and sound views.
“But you have strayed across a line into what is unlawful.”
He conditionally discharged them for 12 months and ordered them each to pay costs of £100 and £50 compensation. He said this reflected the fact that there had been “no long-term term injury or significant costs”.
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