An anti-fracking protest that lasted nearly 100 hours caused travel disruption and incurred extra costs for Lancashire Police and the shale gas company, Preston Crown Court heard this afternoon.
Four men climbed onto to the cabs of lorries delivering to Cuadrilla’s fracking site at Preston New Road near Blackpool in a protest, known as lorry surfing. They each spent between 45 and 84 hours on the lorries, from 25-29 July 2017.
The four men have been convicted of public nuisance and were in court today to be sentenced. This is believed to be the first time people have been charged or convicted for public nuisance in connection with anti-fracking protests.
Simon Roscoe Blevins, 26, a soil scientist, from Sheffield, Richard Roberts, 36, a piano restorer from London, and Rich Loizou, 31, a teacher from Devon, had denied the charge but found guilty after a seven day trial. Julian Brock, 47, from Torquay, had admitted the charge at a separate hearing.
Craig MacGregor, prosecuting, told the court today that bus services and private journeys had been disrupted during the protest.
The lorry drivers were stuck in their cabs, unable to return home. They had given evidence to the trial that their sleep was disturbed and their families upset.
There was a significant increase in travel time and people living nearby found it difficult to get to their homes, Mr MacGregor said.
He described how on the first day of the protest one woman waited 45 minutes for a bus which did not arrive. Two days later, she caught a bus but on the way home it dropped her off short of her usual destination and she had to walk an hour and a half to get home. She was sick when she got home and had to go to bed.
Mr MacGregor added that police officers were taken off front line duties. The extra policing had cost Lancashire Constabulary £12,000. Cuadrilla spent £50,000 in extra fees, Mr MacGregor said.
The court heard that the protest began at 8.06am on 25 July 2017, when Richard Roberts climbed on to the first lorry in a convoy of eight delivering equipment to the Preston New Road site. At about the same time, Rich Loizou climbed on to the last lorry in the convoy.
“The A583 was brought to a stand-still in both directions”, Mr MacGregor said.
This is the main road from Blackpool to Preston and a “blue light” route for emergency services, he said.
At 3.18pm that day, Simon Blevins climbed on to the second vehicle in the convoy. Julian Brock climbed onto his vehicle in the early hours of the morning of 26 July 2017.
Police established a contraflow on the road, which remained in place until 27 July, Mr MacGregor said.
The court heard that the first campaigner to come down was Richard Loizou, at 5.10am on 27 July 20117. He had been on his lorry for 45 hours and 6 minutes. Simon Blevins came down at 4.45pm on 28 July after 73 hours and 27 minutes.
Richard Roberts came down at 8.13pm on 28 July, after 84 hours and 19 minutes. The final protesters to come down from his vehicle was James Brock, on 29 July at 11.35am, after 76 hours.
The total duration of the protest was 99 hours and 31 minutes. It is thought to be the longest single anti-fracking action in the UK.
The court heard that there are no sentencing guidelines for the offence of public nuisance and few legal precedents. Mr MacGregor referred to public nuisance cases where defendants were sentenced to prison.
The case was adjourned until 2.25pm today (25/9/2018). Submissions are expected this afternoon from barristers representing the four men. The judge, His Honour Robert Altham, suggested that sentencing may be delayed until tomorrow (26 September 2018).
Reporting on this case has been made possible by individual donations from DrillOrDrop readers