Cuadrilla has secured a 40-day injunction against protests at its fracking site near Blackpool.
A judge at the High Court in Manchester allowed an application by the shale gas company to prohibit trespass and obstruction at and near the site at Preston New Road, Little Plumpton.
His Honour Judge Pelling QC also approved the company’s request for an order preventing unlawful interference with contractors and suppliers.
The injunction is now in force and will last until a two-day hearing due to end on 11 July 2018. This will examine Cuadrilla’s application in more detail.
It covers the Preston New Road site and a section of the A583 from 50 metres east of the site entrance to the junction with Peel Hill (near the M55 junction 4).
It also applies to the site entrance, known as the bellmouth, which is regularly used for rallies and speeches by campaign groups, trades unions and politicians.
The order additionally covers the premises of 19 named companies. These include the equipment supplier P R Marriott Drilling, the haulier Grampian Continental, Peter Marquis Contractors, Lytham Skip Hire, Standard Fuel Oil Ltd and Greens Environmental Ltd, as well as 11 companies in the Cuadrilla group.
The order specifically prohibits a range of anti-fracking protest techniques including:
- Blocking the site entrance
- Slow walking
- Climbing on to vehicles
People who breach the order could be found to be in contempt of court and may be at risk of a prison sentence, fine or seizure of assets.
Cuadrilla told the court yesterday that it faced an “imminent threat” from a planned blockade of the Preston New Road site at the end of June, promoted by the national campaign group, Reclaim the Power. DrillOrDrop report
A group of four anti-fracking campaigners sought to challenge the injunction, which was originally against persons unknown.
Yesterday, they questioned whether the evidence provided by Cuadrilla justified the injunction. They argued that the company’s proposed order would be an abuse of human rights and that the injunction should not have been brought against “persons unknown”.
But Judge Pelling rejected their challenge. He said Cuadrilla had provided evidence that there was likely to be “a significant increase” in protest activity. The company had referred to an escalation in direct action at Preston New Road and supply companies during last July’s Rolling Resistance campaign supported by Reclaim the Power.
Judge Pelling said:
“That conduct has involved in the past, and is likely to involve in the future, behaviour including locking on to gates, obstructing entrances, slow walking and interfering with vehicles travelling to Preston New Road.”
He said there had been “substantial interference” to people using the A583. Referring to comments from the local chamber of commerce, he added:
“That activity has in the past resulted in damage to local businesses.”
He said he was satisfied that Cuadrilla’s case had passed a test in the Human Rights Act. This restricts granting of this type of interim injunction unless it was likely to succeed at trial.
But the judge required the company to change some wording of the injunction order. This would, he said, focus the injunction on specific unlawful activities.
He also said the order should apply to actions against the supply chain only if it could be proved beyond reasonable doubt that they were intended to cause delay or inconvenience to Cuadrilla.
A weekly Women in White procession and gathering at the site entrance on Wednesday was excluded from the injunction.
After the hearing, Cuadrilla’s Chief Executive, Francis Egan, said in a statement:
“We are pleased that the High Court has seen fit to grant this interim injunction which provides further reassurance to our employees, contractors, and suppliers and the general public using the Preston New Road that they can go about their lawful business without intimidation and illegal unlawful blockades from activists.
“This injunction does not restrict lawful and peaceful protest but is an important deterrence against unlawful protest which we have witnessed to an extraordinarily degree high level at Preston New Road.
“Those activists that continue to contemplate persist in unlawful activity against us or our suppliers should strongly consider the serious penalties that a breach of this injunctions could bring.”
Ian Crane, the only one of the four challengers to the injunction in court today, said:
“This injunction hearing was primarily brought about as a direct result of pronouncements of intended actions. Whether deliberately or inadvertently, these pronouncements effectively gifted the unconventional gas industry the opportunity to seek a far-reaching and chilling injunction.
“While I would be the first to applaud direct actions and recognise the sacrifice of those who participate in direct action, I believe the key element is spontaneity and surprise. Sadly, pronouncements of intended action is regarded as an imminent threat and it is very difficult to challenge the industry’s request for an injunction.”
Mr Crane described the anti-fracking movement as “nothing if not creative”. He added:
“Anyone who participates in any of the proscribed activities must be aware that their assets and potentially their liberty are put at risk.”
A spokesperson for Reclaim the Power declined to comment.
The injunction application will be reconsidered at what is known as a return hearing on 10-11 July 2018 at Manchester Civil Justice Centre, Bridge Street, Manchester M60 9DJ.
The interim injunction order and other papers in the case will be available on Cuadrilla’s Dropbox page: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/isnre2562esz43h/AADxx_pbLq31WC8dyEA2M-71a?dl=0
Green and Black Cross has a downloadable guide to injunctions: https://greenandblackcross.org/guides/injunctions/