An anti-drilling campaigner who spent a night on top of a rig lorry “as an act of conscience” is appealing against his court conviction.
Dr Peter Whittick, who climbed on to the lorry while it was parked at a motorway services, denied hindering the rig owner from carrying out its lawful business.
But he was convicted after a one-day trial in Brighton in February 2018 (DrillOrDrop report).
His appeal begins this morning (Wednesday 4 July 2018) at Hove Trial Centre. He is expected to be supported by opponents of oil and gas drilling across southern England.
Dr Whittick has registered as a conscientious protector, described as someone who cannot stand by in the face of environmental damage. He is expected to use this argument as part of his appeal. The case is due to last three days.
Dr Whittick argued at his trial that the company that had been using the rig at Broadford Bridge in West Sussex had broken conditions of its planning permission on delivery and working hours.
He told the court:
“I could not stand by and allow a flagrant breach of planning permission that was not being addressed by the county council.”
“My concern is that if the breaches of permission we were reporting are not being acted upon it is difficult to have confidence that more serious breaches are being picked up”
The protest took place at the Pease Pottage motorway services on the M23 in West Sussex in September 2017. The rig was being transported from the Broadford Bridge site to another in the county at Lidsey.
Dr Whittick said he went to the motorway services to buy some cakes and saw the rig in the car park.
He said at this trial:
“My concern was that there was a threat to the community. I wanted to raise awareness but also within me there was a deep calling that I had to take action as a matter of conscience.
“I was there by a coincidence and it had to be me that did it.”
Dr Whittick climbed onto the rig at about 2.30am and stayed for about 10 hours. He came down unaided at around midday. He said the rig lorry had left the Broadford Bridge site outside permitted hours and the scheduled arrival at Lidsey would also have breached planning conditions.
The District Judge at the trial, Christopher James, described Dr Whittick as “a man of conscience” but he said the campaigner had “crossed a line” The movement of the rig on public roads was lawful and the protest had resulted in “substantial interference in the rights of the rig owner.”
DJ James found Dr Whittick guilty of breaching Section 241 of the Trades Union and Labour Relations (consolidation) Act and conditionally discharged him for 12 months.
The case was used by the exploration company, UK Oil and Gas, as evidence in its current case at the High Court yesterday, where that company is seeking an injunction against protests. (DrillOrDrop)
The Green Party MEP for south east England, Keith Taylor, supported Dr Whittick’s appeal today:
“There is no question that Pete was acting to prevent further harm. Pete’s courageous stand is in the long tradition of non-violent direct action taken against the very real threats posed to our environment and climate from fracking and oil and gas drilling.
“I’ve met Pete and can vouch for his genuine passion for defending his community and the planet by fighting to keep fossil fuels in the ground.”