Legal

Oil company seeks “unprecedented injunction based on flawed case”, women tell the High Court

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Campaigning outside the UKOG site at Broadford Bridge, 11 July 2017. Photo: Broadford Bridge Action Grouo

An injunction against oil drilling protests in southern England is the most expansive so far sought by the industry but is based on exaggerated and oppressive claims, the High Court heard today.

Six women from Sussex and Surrey are challenging the injunction sought by UK Oil and Gas, which runs the Broadford Bridge site in West Sussex and is a major investor at Horse Hill, near Gatwick. They were joined today by Friends of the Earth, which was given permission to join the action as a defendant.

The women, who include actor Sue Jameson, two environmental campaigners, a therapist and a retired deputy head teacher, made their case against the injunction today. Their barrister, Stephanie Harrison QC, said:

“UKOG is seeking unprecedented wide-ranging relief covering an exhaustive list of ‘offences’ and alleged ‘unlawful acts’.

“It takes the regulation of freedom into a whole new area. It has obvious and severe wide-ranging restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and association.”

Yesterday, UKOG said it was not seeking to prevent lawful peaceful protest outside the Broadford Bridge and Horse Hill sites or its offices in Guildford.

If approved, the injunction would outlaw actions that are offences, such as criminal damage. But it also includes protest tactics, such as slow walking, that in some places are facilitated by police and do not result in prosecutions or convictions.

Ms Harrison told the third day of the hearing that the company’s real intention was to “prevent lawful protest because of the inconvenience and disruption to their commercial activities.”

The injunction seeks to prohibit any form of direct action without defining what that means, Ms Harrison said.

“One of the observations we make is that aside from lobbying, any other form of protest at the site could fall within the definition of direct action.”

“Chilling effect”

The injunction also seeks to prohibit combining together to damage the interests of the company. This could include any help or encouragement to people taking part in protests, the court was told.

Ms Harrison said:

“The terms of this order are having a chilling effect on individuals who have been involved in these activities.”

She said:

“My clients do not understand the parameters of the act of combining together.

“They need to know what they can and cannot do so as not to breach the order and put them in contempt.

“You should not have an order where people will be uncertain or unclear or where people are deterred from lawful conduct. People self-regulate. People will be cautious. They’ll think I won’t write this, I won’t encourage this because this could be some sort of breach of the injunction.”

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Protest outside Horse Hill in Surrey, February 2018

Evidence from ‘Mr Spock’

Yesterday, UKOG showed a selection of video clips of protests as evidence that it faced an imminent threat from what it called “professional protesters”.

Today the court was told that the company’s claims were “oppressive and exaggerated”.

Ms Harrison said:

“Simply looking at isolated, inevitably-selected clips of video footage doesn’t give you a full picture of what has been happening.”

She told the court that most of the protests at the injunction sites dated back to at least a year ago.

“At best what can be said here there has been a pattern of incidents, the last of which of any significance are many months ago.”

The court heard that drilling activities stopped at Broadford Bridge two days after the first hearing of the case in March. The site is no longer active and its planning permission is due to expire in September.

Markwells Wood 4 Ann Stewart

Markwells Wood site. Photo: Ann Stewart

Another site, at Markwells Wood in West Sussex, was in the first draft injunction but also no operations planning permission or right of access for UKOG. This site has since been withdrawn from the injunction.

On the final oil site, at Horse Hill, Ms Harrison said, the company’s claim that it faced an imminent threat was based on a single piece of evidence.

“The key evidence is from a ‘Mr Spock’.

“One person said ‘Horse Hill will kick off’. That is the evidence. It is a single post in response to a request about whether there was any action. It is an off-the-cuff comment.”

There had been no incidents at the headquarters for more than a year, Ms Harrison added.

“Not the same at Ineos”

Yesterday, UKOG urged the deputy judge in the case, John Male QC, to follow the ruling in the injunction case brought by Ineos Upstream, and grant the order.

But Ms Harrison said:

“The claimants have attempted to read over findings of fact and application of law from Ineos and we have said that this is impermissible.

“This is a case where the long-standing established campaigns largely centred around the local areas in Surrey and Sussex which is why we have local individuals who are prepared to take the brave step to participate in legal proceedings.

“These campaigns are genuinely important and significant because the claimants activities adversely affect their lives, their environment and their amenity. This is not the same as the factual circumstances as put before the Ineos case.”

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Protest outside West Sussex County Council, August 2017. Photo: DrillOrDrop

“You can’t sue the bogeyman”

A key issue in the case is that UKOG brought the injunction against ‘persons unknown’. People who breached the injunction order would become named defendants and could be found in contempt of court, facing fines, imprisonment or seizure of their assets.

Yesterday, Tim Polli for UKOG, said this saved the company from serving injunction on a long list of people who had protested anywhere at any time. But Ms Harrison responded today:

“You cannot just sue fresh air or the bogeyman. There must be an individual or individuals who could be a named defendant.

“It is a somewhat bizarre proposition for UKOG to say that because we can’t identify everybody we can therefore identify nobody. We submit that the proposition makes no sense.”

She said UKOG had identified protesters when it served the original order. It named 10 local groups, 17 individuals and was sent to 44 personal Facebook accounts.

She said the company’s approach this did not follow legal procedure and she urged the judge not to make an order against persons unknown. This issue in the Ineos case is to be challenged at the Court of Appeal next year.

UKOG has not sought to defend the injunction at a trial where its witnesses would be cross-examined. But Ms Harrison said today:

“They have sought extensive wide-ranging orders and it is on those orders that they must demonstrate they would probably be granted an injunction at a trial.

“Imposing an injunction at this stage and in its entirety would effectively deprive a full and effective trial of the issues.

“There are two different analyses of what is happening. You need to have a full picture with cross-examination of the witnesses on both sides to see where the line between lawful and unlawful protest should be drawn.

“You cannot proceed on their version of their [UKOG’s] version of events, highly-selective highlights of the worst bits that occurred.”

Reports from Day One and Day Two of the injunction hearing

Reporting on this case has been made possible by individual donations to DrillOrDrop

22 replies »

  1. I believe that a chilling effect is exactly what is needed. Those who are intent upon violating others’ rights should absolutely be “chilled.”

    • Indeed, people in this country wasting energy on big cars, frequent flights and big unshared houses are driving the expansion of fossil fuel extractivism into unconventional methods such as fracking.

      This is violating the rights of millions of people in the countries most vulnerable and least resilient to climate change – their rights to fertile land, rain, health etc.

      I hope the people violating these fundamental human rights feel deeply “chilled” when they are found guilty of manslaughter.

  2. “Highly selective highlights” with pictures above showing protestors at Horse Hill campaigning against FRACKING!

    That is further away from reality than “highly selective highlights”. Not sure this report is helping Ms. Harrison.

      • @Dorkinain, selective highlights means, wheres the pictures of the idiot surfing an oil tanker? Wheres the pictures of the debris left on the side of the road from protesters? Wheres the pictures of the invasion in to Horse Hill and chaining themselves to gates? Drill or Drop can appear to be one sided, the only saving grace is that personal posts like these that show the other side of the coin do seem to be posted to give a balanced view.

        • Gareth I’m glad you think you understood his point, I still don’t TBH.

          The “highly selective highlights” quote from the courtroom was a legal point that was made about the injunction relying on a tiny part of UKOG’s evidence, e.g. in a slow walking video shown to the court, in which the person filming had the camera knocked out of his hand, was threatened and then spat at by the lorry driver, the part relied on was the bit where the person walks in front of the lorry causing a temporary and of course, symbolic delay. It is considered a problem in law for an injunction that relies on “highly selective highlights” like this to then be widely applied to “persons unknown”, without knowledge of the individual’s intentions, because that is what would happen if the injunction is allowed. Anyone could become a defendant at the say so of a site security officer and would then be automatically in contempt of court.

          We will have to wait until August to see what the judge thinks, I know even on the investor forums there has been some unease over this, all credit those that value the common law rights and human rights of the individual in this country.

          There are already laws that deal with all illegal activity and there was no evidence of campaigners concealing their appearance so the person unknown category isn’t applicable, again by their own evidence gathered on Facebook UKOG know where individuals involving themselves in direct action are.

  3. Everybody has certain rights, you can’t deny the rights of one person or a group to satisfy the rights of another, it’s all down to morals and ethics and we know who should be allowed to hold the moral high ground.

  4. Highly selective highlights…where have I heard that before, oh ye that was INEOS’s approach too. Dodgier than Del Boy these companies.

  5. “We know who should be allowed to hold the moral high ground”.

    Oh dear, oh dear.

    And what will you do with those who should not be allowed to hold the moral high ground? Forced re-education? Burn the books they might have informed their opinions from?

    Think that has been tried before. Doesn’t end well.

    A pretty good example of why injunctions are required, Ms Harrison..

    • Isn’t fracking and it’s associated avoidances of the word, strictly low ground?
      Below ground in fact, far far below ground, moral or otherwise?
      And aren’t injunctions seeking to over turn 800 years of freedom od speech and self determination and more recently human rights, the equivalent of burning entire libraries of books and sacking entire countries?
      Strictly moral and ethical and physical below ground isn’t it?

      • No the injunctions are seeking to maintain the people’s right to work which is equally as important as the right to protest. I also want the right to ensure that energy policy in this country achieves the right balance between environmental concerns, energy security and reliability, and cost to the consumer. In my view, home produced shale gas will make a significant but small contribution to that balanced energy future.

        Frack On and keep my grandchildren warm and safe in a greener world.

        BTW I notice there are plans to site a 870 acre solar farm on marshland in North Kent – now that’s what I call industrialisation of the landscape. I’m not necessarily against it but the comparison with the tiny footprint of one frack pad is too obvious to miss.

        • it was a rhetorical question Shalewatcher, and the answer you give is not true anyway, even if it was asked for.

          Exploiting need is not providing a service.

          There is no balance in environmental concerns, its either environment or we are all dead.

          “Energy security” is a tabloid fabrication, renewable sources of energy will give a close approximation to that myth for hundreds, maybe thousands of years, during which time we will no doubt have made even more intelligent responsible discoveries and will use energy that is given freely.
          But exploiting the last gasp last ditch attempt of making profit out of the dwindling resource beneath our feet will give 20 or thirty years at best and will pollute and devastate this country and the entire planet in the process, a price too high to pay, as usual its the case that just because we can do something, it doesn’t mean that we should, and is illustrated by J Robert Oppenheimer’s words quoting the Bagavad Ghita:

          Off loading the filth and pollution and climate change consequences onto your children and mine, and everyone else’s children and theirs, is not making them safe in the slightest, in fact it is endangering their very existence and they will condemn us out of hand for allowing this industrial devastation to gain a foothold here and elsewhere.

          I am not sure where you get the notion that the world will be “greener” isnt that a derog a tory term amongst frackers? With the fossil fuel pollution at full tilt? the ozone layer is all ready deeply holed, the atmospher is becoming saturated with methane, wildfires are more like firestorms these days due to the increased level of methane in the atmosphere and the ground, trees are dying, plants dont breathe methane, it kills them. so, no, not an expletive “greener” world but a burned out husk of a devastated planet for yours and my children to enjoy?

          As for “footpints” you are ignoring, as always, the underground “footprint” of kilometers wide and deep into aquifers and natural fractures and spreading the poisons even further.
          How about the earthquake “footprint”?
          How about the social and living condition “footprint”?
          How about the health legacy “footprint”?
          How about the democratic and human rights “footprint”?
          How about the lack of investment in the true energy security of renewable energy “footprint”?
          how about the future pollution and legacy “footprint”? That our children will have to suffer and attempt to pu right and clean up?

          But never mind, nice try, but no cigar near fracking wells remember, or we will have another wildfire firestorm that will leave another legacy for our children?

    • Hi Keith

      Thanks for your comment.

      The challenge to the injunction was brought by six women and Ruth considered this was worth pointing out. However this is a fair point, which we will bear in mind in the future.

      It does seem that the industry is predominantly led by men (an exception which springs to mind is Lynn Calder of Ineos) and in this case UKOG was opposed by a group of women. You may or may not feel that is significant or noteworthy.

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