Campaigner loses appeal over “act of conscience” protest

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Dr Peter Whittick on the rig lorry on 7 September 2017. Photo: Eddie Mitchell

A man who spent 10 hours on top of a rig lorry in protest to oil exploration has lost his appeal against conviction.

Dr Peter Whittick sought to overturn a previous guilty verdict by using a defence of conscientious protector, in one of the first cases of its kind.

But the judge at Hove Trial Centre, Shami Barnes, dismissed the appeal and increased Dr Whittick’s sentence.

After he hearing, Dr Whittick said:

“I am very disappointed that Judge Barnes so readily dismissed my evidence in relation to the threat of climate change and the contribution to it from this new wave of oil and gas exploration in the UK.”

The case dates backs to September 2017, when Dr Whittick climbed onto the rig lorry parked at Pease Pottage Services on the M23. It was moving the rig from the Broadford Bridge oil exploration site in West Sussex to another site in the county at Lidsey. (Background to the case)

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Pease Pottage Services, West Sussex, 7 September 2017. Photo: Eddie Mitchell

Dr Whittick has registered as a conscientious protector, described as someone who cannot stand by in the face of environmental damage.

He told his original trial he wanted to raise awareness of what he saw as the threat of oil exploration to his community. He said:

“There was a deep calling that I had to take action as a matter of conscience.”

The judge at that case described Dr Whittick as a “man of conscience” but found him guilty of breaching Section 241 of the Trades Union and Labour Relations (consolidation) Act.

At the appeal hearing, which ended yesterday 5 July 2018), Dr Whittick’s sentence was increased from a 12-month conditional discharge  to 24 months. He was also ordered to pay costs of £220.

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Dr Whittick outside the Broadford Bridge site. Photo: Frack Free Sussex

Dr Whittick said:

“The impact of this level of industrialisation on our communities’ public health and the environment are real, and will have serious consequences for climate change.

“There is no social licence for this, and communities are being left in the dark with new government proposals threatening to take decisions about fossil fuel extraction completely out of local control.

“I am proud to be one of many legally registered conscientious protectors across the world prepared to take peaceful direct action as a last resort to prevent harm from being done to the earth and to the victims of climate change”.

A spokesperson from local residents’ group Keep Billingshurst Frack Free said,

 “Local people are very disappointed that the Judge chose not to acquit Dr Whittick today.

“Peter has lived in Sussex all his life and has campaigned tirelessly and peacefully to raise awareness of the dangers of oil and gas exploration and climate change.

“We look forward to a time when protecting the earth against harm is seen as our duty, not a crime”.

62 replies »

  1. Expensive cakes…

    So next time this “man of conscience” delays a legitimate business he will go to prison. Fair outcome.

    • A lot hangs on one’s understanding of the word ‘legitimate’ Paul. I know Pete. He is what he say he is. A conscientious protector. It won’t be the money or the suspended sentence that matter to him as much as the fact that he wasn’t listened to and had to sit and listen to a judge declare that climate change doesn’t present a current serious threat.

  2. Excellent result

    “There was a deep calling that I had to take action as a matter of conscience.” Bless him

    • An excellent result would have been a serious debate about the issues, which the judge wasn’t at all interested in.

    • Sad life you must be leading GottaBKidding if your weekend relies on others’ misfortune. Anything interesting to add to the debate as to whether or not unconventional oil and gas extraction should be endorsed by our government?

      • So you are ok with laws being broken are you? Load of nonsense, he should be made to do some hard labor to knock some real world reality back into that leftie mind of his.

        • So your contention GottaBKidding is that if something is the law the it’s got to be right, is it? So, Irish anti-abortion laws were right, were they? People don’t think so now. People should be incarcerated for same sex relationships should they? That’s no longer a fashionable view either. Or maybe people of colour shouldn’t be accorded the same rights as white Europeans? That was once a law too. See where I’m going with this? Where’s your humanity GottaBKidding? This is simply a ‘person’, not a ‘leftie’, with deeply held convictions. And by the way, Nelson Mandela was forced to endure decades of hard labour on Robben Island. He emerged from that experience stronger and more resolute in his convictions than before. There you go. Wishing ill on people again. Why?

          • It’s fine to have deeply held feelings, Jonathan. It is not fine to impose them on others and to infringe on the rights of others so that you can make your point. If that were okay then society would cease to function.

            • Dinosoup the point Jonathan is making is that because something is lawful does not necessarily mean it is right. History has repeatedly proved that. Other political parties do not support fracking and a change of government could result in a strengthening of climate change legislation and make fossil fuel extraction in the U.K. unlawful if it breaches legislation. The government was found “guilty” by the courts for permitting toxic air pollution to breach lawful standards. There is a challenge currently being considered regarding the government’s actions on climate change, the government could well miss statutory and legally binding carbon budgets, which will also be unlawful. Climate change is real, it is extremely damaging to us all and the government has a legal responsibility to tackle it.

            • Okay Dinosoup (I must have a ‘green’ autocorrect, it wants to change to change your ‘nom de plume’ to Dinosaur lol). Facts. Here’s good one. By far the majority of academic scientists that devote their life to climate study agree that the primary cause of climate change is human activity. Here’s another good one. They also feel that we have already done irreversible damage to our climate system and the sustainability of life on earth or are very close to doing so. Analagous fact. If you place a toad in warm water and gradually increase its temperature it will allow itself to be boiled to death. Are humans that much different in their current non-response to climate change? Fact. People could most certainly exist without the oil and gas industry. They did so for thousands of years. Our lives might be slightly different, but there’s absolutely no danger that we wouldn’t exist. Fact. Wind turbines and solar farms aren’t the only alternatives to the oil and gas industry. They are simply economically viable current options, and in certain places, such as in the deserts of the Middle East and North Africa solar farms make perfect sense and are game changers for local economies. Wind farms work well in sparsely populated areas or out at sea in some areas. Personally I love the sight of them in the vast depopulated expanses of Andalucian hill ranges where they unfailingly remind me of Don Quixote. Mr Musk and others are currently working on far more discrete sustainable energy generators, such as solar roofing tiles that are barely distinguishable from conventional roofing. Provided it is enthusiastically applied and receives the right backing human ingenuity can achieve wonderful things. Oil and gas are not the solution to Africa’s energy crisis, especially at the village level. Solar energy might be. You seem to lack imagination Dinosoup with regard to this issue Dinosoup. Much like our current government. Desecration to me is epitomised in the areas of America and Australia where things won’t grow because of oil and gas exploitation contamination, and where all forms of animal life (including humans) are exposed to toxic substances. I am not a wealthy person as you conjecture, but I am a person that is prepared to pay a little more for items that do less damage to our planet. Please share you IRREFUTABLE EVIDENCE that not having oil and gas would be a serious threat to billions of people. I’d be really interested to take a look at it. Global warming, by the way, is a present and serious threat to every single person currently living on the planet. EVEN oil and gas industry executives. Fact.

            • Our government Dinosoup is currently imposing non conventional oil and gas extraction on millions of its citizens. By you very own criterion, that is not okay. Especially when they have explicitly declared that they don’t want it.

            • KatT, because something is lawful doesn’t make it wrong either. The facts stand against you and there is no disputing that. If you believe in a cause that is fine. But to take away my rights because of your belief is not fine. If you follow the logic to the limit, it would result in anarchy, chaos, and ultimately to the loss of life. Protest as much as you like, but you have no right to trample on the rights of others in the process.

            • Jonathan, I’m afraid that you are absolutely naive in your belief that society could continue to exist without massive upheaval and loss of life with no fossil fuels. Energy is crucial to society and intermittent power from renewable sources will not suffice for many of the jobs that fossil fuels handle. Take food for instance. How do you sustain 7 billion people without fertilizers made from gas? Answer – you cannot. What about the large proportion of society that lives in warm climates and depend on air-conditioning? Or those that depend on heating in winter. As it is, thousands die each year from exposure to the elements – leave fossil fuels in the ground and that heating or air-conditioning becomes much more expensive (if it’s even available) and many, many more people perish. And how would you even make your renewable turbines and solar cells without fossil fuels? I don’t believe you can make plastics from hemp, can you? Can intermittent power create an RTP furnace that will rapidly heat a wafer to 1000 degrees C? Their are tens of thousands of other applications that will not be accomplished, or will not be accomplished cost effectively enough to sustain the world’s populations without fossil fuels. I’m afraid that the facts stand against your “cause” once again.

            • Jonathan, when the plurality of voters endorses onshore gas, it is a stretch to say that the government has “imposed” anything on anyone. You lost. Get over it.

            • Jonathan, global warming is not a threat to every single person on this planet. The world has gone through warming and cooling phases throughout its history. As the climate changes, some geographies become less habitable, some become more habitable. Some arid climes are already becoming wetter. When the cycle reverses and the weather cools, these trends will reverse. The same has been happening for billions of years.

              The FACT is that though we know the climate is warming we are not certain that the warming is due to man-made causes. Many scientists believe that it is, but even among those scientists there is much disagreement regarding how much influence humans have had. There are also many scientists who are uncertain how much influence humans have had on climate change. We know that co2 levels have been more than 20x levels we are currently experiencing during an ice age. We also know that historically, co2 levels have generally lagged temperature changes (outgassing from oceans), and this doesn’t support your point of view. We also know that when the best climate models are backtested using historic data from long ago, they fail miserably at accurately predicting temperature levels and change, indicating that current models are inaccurate.

              Again, speaking in definitive terms about any of this makes you appear that you don’t know what you are talking about. I think that you are capable of doing better.

  3. The four people above have no conscience it would appear. Seeming to admire entities destroying the earth and water for their children and grandchildren … I hope one day you will remember those comments when children’s noses start bleeding, and excruciating headaches happen, while undrinkable water also starts in your communities. I am on the right side of history with DR Whittick

    • Only stupid to appeal gasman if Pete’s appeal was in any way motivated by a desire to improve his own situation. It wasn’t. It was a further act of conscience.

  4. I remember this story, and this guy appealed? Remember reading about who this guy was and how he came to be on top of the wagon.

    Peter Whittick was a lecturer at the University of Chichester

    Are you ready for this…

    Postgraduate Research Projects at the Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy

    Peter Whittick: Death, Resurrection and the Flesh of the Imagination: A Critical and Creative Exploration of Cultural Dyslexia with regards to Nature develops an eco-critical perspective for the reading of portrayals of nature in literature and applies it to the fiction of David Almond. The creative element explores more empowering ways of representing nature in adolescent fiction and explores the origins of folk tales, developing a new myth for the 21st century. Drawing on the atmosphere of the Hebridean Ceilidh House, it also implements a phenomenological response to the ‘more-than-human’ environment as a major influence within the story, linking to ancient pagan tales and myths that formed in response to a reciprocal interaction with animal entities and the Earth. (Supervisors: Prof Bill Gray & Dr Hugh Dunkerley).

    Maybe through his lectures he came up with the story of going to a service station to buy a cake at two thirty in the Morning? Then happened to spot the wagon?

    Looks like it was an expensive fairy cake at 2 in the Morning…

    If Peter felt that strongly and this was upheld by the judge as an act of conscience then surely animal rights groups could climb every wagon with animals that were to be slaughtered by strict halal methods?

    Then Vegan animal rights groups will be allowed to jump on cattle wagons, It’s a fair point…

    So in essence if you don’t like something and you feel that strongly you can use any means to stop it???

    Are we all going to jump on that wagon???

    • Dear Kisheny. That wagon’s already been jumped on big time by entities such as our own government, which is why Pete found himself wishing to take direct action in order to highlight the venality and incaution that underlies our current policies with regard to onshore drilling. An example. The government wished to encourage onshore drilling for ‘tight’ deposits of oil and gas despite the fact that such operations have had environmentally disastrous and entirely non-profitable outcomes overseas, to the extent that they are banned in many countries. But not here in Britain. Here the government appoints a regulatory body comprising members of the industry itself (self evidently non-neutral) and undermines all democratic opposition to unconventional onshore drilling by overruling local decision-making bodies. And then, in order to ‘seal the deal’ and present a positive PR story it ignores internationally agreed upon definitions of ‘fracking’ (and its concomitant dangers) in order to be able to sanitise the entire issue. ‘No!’ ‘No fracking going on here’ ‘What we’re proposing is purely conventional oil and gas extraction’. However, what they are encouraging can ONLY be termed conventional because uniquely in the world the British authorities have redefined what the word fracking actually represents. Everywhere else in the world it means one thing. Here in Britain, the government says it means something else. Dr Whittick’s interest in Fairy Tales and Fantasy is an academic one. The Fairy Tales and Fantasy woven by our government are intended to mislead and facilitate an industrial endeavour that has been widely criticised or even banned overseas.

      • Jonathan, when people talk in such definitive terms about subjective matters, they lose credibility. The things which you see as black and white simply aren’t. There are many shades between. You aren’t the smartest person on the planet believe it or not.

    • Thank goodness for us all that some people have been prepared to make a stand over the centuries. Because many of the rights and standards we enjoy today have resulted from such actions. Yes there are some people who may be considered extreme but difficult change nearly always results from social conscience and social movements. Climate change is a huge issue and quite simply not enough is being done to mitigate it. Personally, this form of direct action is not for me but I realise that history tells us that sadly without protest and action it easy for government and industry to keep the status quo and not always act in our best interests. And the public can also be left unaware if some members of society are not willing to act and challenge.

      • Protest and action are fine as long as they don’t cross the line. What if someone were to protest your existence, Kat? 24x7x365 they hounded you, and interfered in your life. They called you incessantly, they blocked your driveway when you wanted to leave your house, jumped on your car when you tried to drive, and chained themselves to your home’s doors. How would you feel?

    • In what way precisely Oleaginous might this situation be considered to have improved? Do you somehow ‘get off’ on belittling an academic with a conscience?

      • Johnny, let me explain my amusement at the Peter’s progress

        Lorry loiterer gets done, appeals and get’s double dose, then he is revealed to be a fairy fan – highly hilarious

        • Ah! Now you wish to belittle me. My name’s Jonathan, not Johnny. As for your real name, guess we’ll never know. It takes courage to reveal oneself in debate. It takes even more courage to risk criminal prosecution for something that you believe in. Do you know anything about courage Oleaginous? Quite curious to know what you believe in as well?

    • He’s a good person Mrs M. Kind and considerate. He’s also a writer with a considerable talent. What do you do from beneath your cloak of anonymity?

  5. Well Jonathan, you may support such hypocrisy, but the rest of us realise you get to a motorway service station IN A MOTOR, and then when you have bought your cakes you have to continue along the motorway to the next exit and then cross to the other carriageway and return back along the motorway to get back to where you started.

    So, really, it was a good job the debate you would have liked to see (when has a Court of Appeal been a venue for that?) did not take place otherwise there could have been serious questions around how one person who consumes fossil fuels recklessly hears voices saying others shouldn’t.

    • Martin I enjoy and respect your posts but it is nonesense to argue that anyone using fossil fuels and opposes fracking is a hypocrite. Because of where we are right now and the government we have, we as consumers have little choice. But this will change as greener technologies advance. I do as much as I can as I’m sure many people do. I buy my electricity from a green company but that is still distributed to my home via a grid system that also delivers energy from fossil fuels. I have paid to have additional insulation fitted in my home, I have solar panels and an air source heat pump (which is excellent in cold weather by the way) I have a car that has on road low exhaust emissions but runs on fossil fuels. I would love to be able to afford a Tesla! We know fossil fuels cannot be phased out overnight but there is a lot more government and industry could do and must do. And fracking and extracting new sources of fossil fuels is not the answer and only delays the inevitable. If I could lead a fossil fuel life right now I would and so would most people.

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