An anti-drilling campaigner who delayed the transport of an oil rig by spending the night on the delivery lorry has been found guilty.
Lecturer, Peter Whittick, from Crawley, said his protest was an act of conscience and he was considering an appeal.
Speaking outside Brighton Magistrates Court this morning he said was seeking to protect communities from fracking and industrialisation of the countryside and to draw attention to breaches of regulations.
The verdict follows a one-day trial last week, at which the court heard how Dr Whittick had climbed onto the lorry when it was parked at Pease Pottage Services off the A23 in West Sussex. (DrillOrDrop reports from the trial here and here)
He said it was a remarkable coincidence that he saw the rig parked at the services, about a mile from his home, when he drove in to buy cake for his family.
The court had heard how Dr Wittick spent several hours before taking any action, talking to friends and other campaigners about what he should do.
He was spotted at about 2.30am on 7 September 2017 when the lorry driver prepared to take the rig to the Lidsey oil site near Bognor in West Sussex.
Police warned Dr Whittick that he would be arrested. He came down from the lorry unaided after about 10 hours at around mid-day.
Dr Whittick argued that there had been a breach of planning conditions because the lorry had taken the rig off another oil site at Broadford Bridge outside permitted hours. The scheduled arrival at the Lidsey site would also have breached planning conditions, he said.
Moving rig on public road “not unlawful”
But today District Judge Christopher James said fracking, though contentious, was not unlawful. Nor was the movement of the rig on public roads from one site to another, he said.
He found Dr Whittick guilty of hindering the rig owner from carrying out its lawful business under section 241 of the Trades Union and Labour Relations (consolidation) Act.
DJ James said Dr Whittick had rights to freedom of expression and assembly under the Human Rights Act. But those rights were qualified by the rights of others to be free to go about their lawful business. Because of the protest, the rig’s arrival at Lidsey was delayed and the lorry driver’s day was extended to 21 hours.
The District Judge said:
“In this case there has been substantial interference in the rights of the rig owner.”
There was a deliberate disturbance, he said, which went beyond what was reasonable.
DJ James said:
“You are a genuine protester, someone with deeply held views but your behaviour crossed the line of lawful protest.”
DJ James conditionally discharged Dr Whittick for 12 months and reduced his costs to £105. To applause from the packed the public gallery, the district judge added:
“You are a man of conscience with deep-seated opinions about climate change and the protection of the environment.”
“Wrong people in the dock”
Outside the court, Dr Whittick said he was very disappointed that he was not acquitted. But he said:
“I know I did do the right thing to raise awareness about the dangerous of onshore oil and gas.
“We are talking about thousands of wells across the entire region. That to my mind is a crime and it is necessary for everyone to do their best to prevent that crime.”
In a statement to supporters he said:
“The wrong people are being put in the dock. In temporarily delaying the progress of the drill rig BDF28, I was acting out of conscience to protect the communities of Sussex and the Weald from the threat of future fracking, from the current planned industrialisation of the weald by oil and gas companies and to highlight the ongoing breaches of West Sussex County Council’s operating regulations that the court has accepted as evidence.
“The police and the authorities have attempted to criminalise myself and fellow activists by including us in the Sussex Police prevent domestic extremism bulletins.
“How it is possible that peaceful well-meaning and caring people, whose focus is only to protect the land and their communities are criminalised in this way, is beyond my comprehension. Citizens are being stripped of their democratic human rights to protest, while the act of ecocide, through increasing oil and gas production in the face of accelerating climate change, is going unchallenged.
“My action to prevent harm was an act of conscience. The District Judge was clearly affected by this stance and has given serious consideration to it.”
Lorraine Inglis, a campaigner with Weald Action Group, said:
“We are very grateful to Peter Whittick for doing what he did. Unfortunately he was not acquitted.”
She said campaigners were concerned about plans by the industry to use acid to extract oil from across the Weald. They would continue to try to slow down the industry and campaign against the industrialisation of the countryside, she said.