Opponents of fracking are becoming over-cautious to avoid breaching an injunction granted to theUK’s biggest shale gas company, the High Court heard today.
One person said in a statement:
“We all felt like we could not even go and talk to people from INEOS in case we were accused of intimidating the staff”.
“We cannot hope to protect ourselves against the risks from the injunction. … This is likely to lead me to erring on the side of extreme caution.”
INEOS Shale is seeking to renew the injunction, which stops anti-fracking protests from interrupting its operations and supply chain. People who breach the order could have their assets seized or go to prison.
Two campaigners, Joe Boyd and Joe Corre, are challenging the injunction, arguing that it breaches human rights, is unnecessary and based on “flimsy evidence”.
Heather Williams, for Mr Boyd, said:
“People are being unduly cautious in their behaviour in order to avoid breaching the injunction.
“The terms of the order are impermissibly broad and vague, causing significant concern to a large number of people and creating an impermissible chilling effect on the right to assembly and or protest. It cannot be right to put people in that sort of jeopardy.”
INEOS said the injunction does not outlaw anything which is not already illegal.
But the order applies to some protest strategies, such as slow walking, which are tolerated by some police forces. It also covers anyone who does anything to help another to breach the injunction.
Ms Williams said:
“People who would be disseminating information about INEOS or organising protest meetings are worried that they may come under the injunction.
“It could cover someone who gives a person a lift to an assembly or brings hot drinks to protesters at an assembly. It could cover a journalist who disseminates information about an assembly at which slow walking takes place.”
Ms Williams said the injunction was so wide in the range of people and activities that it sought to protect that INEOS Shale had not been able to identify a precedent.
INEOS has presented about 3,000 pages of evidence from campaigners’ emails, Facebook posts, tweets and messages to support its case for the injunction.
As a result, Mrs Williams said, social media was also being chilled by the terms of the order, even though the exchange of information was protected by law from interference by a public body.
She described how a person contacted a photographer who worked for INEOS and was referred by INEOS lawyers to the terms of the injunction.
“It was plainly intended to chill lawful, protected speech.”
Ms Williams said the company had indicated that it was in “possession of information indicating there was an immediate threat of serious personal injury or death to their own employees and others linked to INEOS from the activities of protesters.”
But INEOS had overstated the risk, she said, and had provided “exaggerated, tendentious and selective” evidence to justify the injunction.
“It did not in fact come near to bearing this out nor warranted the use of such sensationalist and emotive headlines”.
Ms Williams said the company had a legal duty to present information fairly at the private hearing when the injunction was first granted.
But it had “failed to distinguish between legitimate robust expression of opinion, which may have been insulting, with unlawful conduct. Behaviour described by INEOS as harassment was no more than abusive or irritating, she said.
There was no evidence to link INEOS’s cited examples of criminal damage to anti-fracking campaigners, she said. And the company had not provided examples of the many peaceful protests.
22 video clips, presented by the company, were, she said, presented as representative of six-and-a-half hours of material that the court had not had time to view. In one, the clip showed protesters shouting at security guards but this had followed an unseen incident in which a guard allegedly assaulted a protester.
The other challenger, Joe Corre, son of the fashion designer, Vivienne Westwood, is to make his case tomorrow (2/11/2017) on what is expected to be the final day of the hearing.
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