Data from a Yorkshire law firm shows that less than half the arrests made at protests outside Third Energy’s fracking site ended in a conviction.
Helen White, of Howells Solicitors, who compiled the figures, said some people were charged with offences where there was “no reasonable prospect of a conviction”. Some people were arrested, in cases several times, and either no action was taken against them or they were acquitted or the charges dropped.
The figures cover protests outside the Kirby Misperton site between September 2017 and March 2018. This period coincided with the arrival of fracking equipment at the site and the later demobilisation after the government insisted on a financial resilience assessment of Third Energy.
Now that all the court cases have finished, the Howells data shows there were 85 arrests and 41 convictions.
Of the 85 arrests, 22 did not result in charges. These cases comprised three cautions and 19 cases where no further action was taken.
Of the people charged, 13 cases were discontinued before the case came to court. Another nine cases resulted in not-guilty verdicts after a trial. The conviction figures included cases where some charges had been discontinued.
Ms White, who defended many people who were arrested at Kirby Misperton, said:
“The 50% acquittal rate shows that some cases were charged that had no reasonable prospect of a conviction and were dropped by the prosecution.
“All cases that proceeded to trial were robustly defended with detailed arguments on the right to protest, police powers, and disclosure issues.
“The right to protest is being slowly eroded, and in my opinion, the protesters will be vindicated by history both at Kirby Misperton and around the country. They are passionately against this industry, and they are raising awareness nationally about the dangers of fracking.”
Eddie Thornton, a protester who was arrested several times at Kirby Misperton, said:
“It’s not surprising to see such a low conviction rate. Arrests at protests are often made to remove individuals from the area.
“I was arrested four times, which allowed the police to convince the judge I posed a threat of re-offending. So he banned me from the entire Habton Road which leads to the fracking site.
“All charges against me were later dropped, but the police managed to keep me away from the protest for nine months”.
Another opponent of Third Energy’s operation, Leigh Coghill, was arrested three times but left York Magistrates Court last week (28/9/2018) with a clean record. She said:
“This whole process has been a massive waste of time and money. While the justice system is being cut to the bone, the court has had to appoint a special district judge who’s spent almost a year on these trials. And a year later, thanks to the courageous civil disobedience that took place over many months, Kirby Misperton remains un-fracked.”
North Yorkshire Police published the additional costs of the policing operation. The most recent total, up to February 2018, was £700,660.
A spokesperson for North Yorkshire Police told DrillOrDrop:
“Throughout the operation, our role has been to balance the rights of everyone at Kirby Misperton – including people assembling and protesting peacefully, businesses carrying out their lawful activity, and local residents going about their daily lives safely and without disruption. We responded proportionately to protests, and worked with the protesters to explain what was acceptable in terms of safety and reasonableness.
“However, as the judge said following one trial, ‘rights are not trump cards that can simply be played to deny the rights of other people’. So when the balance tipped from peaceful protest to deliberate, unlawful acts that caused unreasonable disruption to others, we had to take appropriate action.
“The local Neighbourhood Policing Team continues to work in Kirby Misperton and surrounding villages, with ongoing support from local residents to keep our communities safe.”
The North Yorkshire Police figures for arrests and court outcomes were slightly different to those compiled by Howells. The force included an arrest in Whitby in its total. But the number of convictions was still just under half the number of arrests.
The conviction rate, defined by the Crown Prosecution Service as the number of defendants divided by the number of defendants prosecuted, was 66% on the North Yorkshire Police figures and 65% on the Howells figures. The average for England and Wales in magistrates courts in 2017 was 84%.
Analysis by DrillOrDrop of arrests at the Balcombe protests in 2013 found that there had been 126 arrests, 114 charges, 29 convictions and a conviction rate of 25%.