Ten anti-fracking campaigners who locked themselves together in a protest outside Cuadrilla’s shale gas site have been found not guilty after a trial in Blackpool.
The five women and five men, who included a retired midwife and solicitor, trainee yoga teacher, business analyst and manager of a supported housing unit, were cleared this morning of obstructing the highway.
They had locked themselves together in pairs through yellow-painted boxes outside the site on Preston New Road on 3 May 2017.
The district judge, Jeff Brailsford, said:
“These defendants hold genuine beliefs and are entitled to express those beliefs. They are, indeed, passionate in support of those beliefs, and those from whom I heard listed the other ways in which they seek to promote their cause.
[It] would seem to me to show that there was fundamental responsibility being exercised by these defendants.
“I am of the view that the defendants have, on the evidence I heard, sufficiently raised and established ‘lawful excuse’.
“The prosecution has not shown, to my satisfaction, the defendants to have been overall unreasonable.
“Accordingly, the charge is not made out, and I find the defendants not guilty.”
This was the first large trial of people who took part in lock-on protests outside Cuadrilla’s site.
“Genuine and passionate beliefs”
Mike Schwarz, from Bindmans LLP, which represented all 10, said:
“What was clear during the trial – and reflected in the judgement – is that each of these campaigners, people from all walks of life, held genuine and passionate beliefs. They expressed their views peacefully, calmly and politely. It was therefore not difficult for the judge to conclude that they were entitled to express those beliefs in the reasonable way they did, and acquit all of them.”
Elisabeth Whitebread, energy campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said:
“We are thrilled that the action taken by these ten volunteers has been recognised by the courts for what it was – a peaceful protest acting on the strong belief of concerned citizens that fracking is not good for Lancashire. This not guilty verdict, on the grounds that the protest was reasonable, will add to the volume of the rising voices asking the government to stop backing fracking.”
One of protesters, Gill Wood, from Blackpool, said:
“This is the best possible outcome. We have tried everything and this protest was a reasonable response to the threat of fracking in Lancashire. I first became aware of fracking because it was starting to happen in my hometown of Blackpool. I did my research and didn’t find it to be a proven and safe industry. I didn’t feel happy with the proximity to the town or the industrialisation of the countryside. I believe there are cleaner and safer alternatives such as wind, tidal and solar which would be a good alternative.”
Another, Liz Stanton, from Preston, said:
“As a local person concerned about fracking, I have been campaigning for over five years now. I have delivered leaflets, run stalls to raise awareness, and got involved with activities to highlight the issue of fracking, such as community get-togethers. I have written to local councillors and MPs and I was outside Lancashire County Hall to celebrate when our council said No to the fracking companies. It made sense that peaceful protest needs to be part of our response to fracking.”
Jane Hayes, who lives Scarborough, 20 miles from Third Energy’s fracking site, said:
“I am so pleased we were acquitted. It has made my year. I acted in solidarity with other people who have peacefully protested fracking, but also acted for my own personal beliefs too. I believe fracking is irresponsible, risking the environment for profit.”
“I live just outside Scarborough in the North York Moors, an area that could be directly affected by fracking. As a National Park, this area should be protected. I was one of thousands who wrote to the planners rejecting fracking at the Kirby Misperton site. However, it has been given the go-ahead unfairly and undemocratically. I hope this positive outcome today will be a boost to other anti-fracking campaigners everywhere.”
Human rights and INEOS injunction
The campaigner Joe Corre, who is challenging an injunction brought by INEOS Shale against anti-fracking protests, said this evening:
“Judges and the courts recognise that our Human Rights under articles 10 and 11 allow citizens to express themselves and protest including sitting down in the road if they want to, even if this activity might ordinarily be unlawful. This is clearly the case with the Greenpeace 10 Lock on.
“INEOS want to stop that consideration at the pass by buying the law and imposing unlimited financial penalties, asset seizures and imprisonment on people at the stage of something being unlawful using their draconian injunction, ignoring the human rights component completely.
“If anything the judgement regarding the Greenpeace 10 shows how unworkable the INEOS injunction is when people are before the court.”