A natural health therapist who briefly joined a Facebook group about oil drilling in Surrey was named in a High Court injunction against protests at two places she had never visited.
Helen King told the court this morning:
“I do not know why my name is on the injunction order. I have done nothing for them to pick my name off Facebook.”
Ms King, who lost a day’s work to attend the court in London, was one of 46 individuals and groups named in the interim injunction order granted in private last month to Angus Energy. The order sought to prohibit some types of protests at the company’s oil sites at Balcombe in West Sussex and Brockham in Surrey.
A witness statement by lawyers for Angus Energy said the named people or groups had “extensive involvement with protests/unlawful activities at other oil and gas sites in the proximity of the sites”.
Ms King, who once lived near a prospective, but now abandoned, oil site at Leith Hill, was served with the injunction by Facebook messenger.
She said she did not recognise the names of the people who contacted her and did not open the message until she was alerted by others that she had been named on the injunction. She told the court:
“As a member of the public, to get ten documents, some with 300 pages, and to hear about potential costs and imprisonment, it is very frightening.
“No solicitor would give me advice because they said I would not get legal aid.
“I don’t know where my name came from. I have never been to Brockham. I have never been to Balcombe.
“I want Angus Energy to explain why my name was on a list in the first place and why I was served on Facebook.”
The judge, Mr Justice Zacaroli, said the hearing was listed for only two hours and there was no time to answer her questions.
Outside the court, Ms King said she had looked back at the Facebook group and saw that most of her posts had been praising attractive pictures of Leith Hill.
“This is the thin end of the wedge. If you don’t stand up to this what do you want to stand up for?”
Another woman, Emily Mott, told the court
“This is harassment. It has a chilling effect.”
She was representing the group, Markwells Wood Watch, which was also named on the injunction order. It campaigned against potential oil drilling by a different company on the Hampshire border, 48 miles from Balcombe and 55 miles from Brockham.
Outside the court, Ms Mott said:
“We find it shocking that we have been targeted unfairly by this legal action when we have never engaged in any illegal activities nor any of the activities named in the injunction.
“There is a reasonable basis to conclude that our protected activities will be chilled— that our organisation and those affiliated may be discouraged from joining or being involved and that those directly associated may in fact do less speaking, associating or petitioning and peacefully demonstrating. It is also true that members are likely to withdraw and those who are not members are more likely to think of our group as involved in more extreme actions and even assoiciate our group with criminal activity.
“The impact of “chill” will be confounded if oil companies keep getting away with these wide injunctions against persons unknown and naming people and groups that are not directly associated with the sites listed in the injunction.”
Ms Mott asked the court about whether people who had attended the hearing could claim costs. Judge Zacaroli said:
“I do not think so. Parties may be able to get their legal costs but not for time or transport.”
Ms Mott replied:
“These companies can list who they want, people like us who have nothing to do with it, and then there is nothing we can do about it.”
Infant support group named
Another group which challenged its name on the injunction was Surrey Hills Slings, which promotes breast feeding and the use of slings for infants. It supports vulnerable parents in the area around Leith Hill and uses the countryside for therapeutic walks.
The group had previously been named on an injunction sought by Europa Oil & Gas about protests at the Leith Hill site. In a statement to the court, the group said:
“Following this event we found ourselves subject to ongoing intimidation and harassment by Europa.”
It said it had blocked all unrelated content on its Facebook page and had not been aware that it had been included on the Angus Energy injunction until three days before today’s court hearing.
Another nine people challenged the inclusion of their names on the injunction order and 23 people have sent witness statements to the court opposing the injunction.
The court extended the order until another hearing, expected to last three days, starting on about 10 December 2018.
It also extended a similar injunction by IGas for two sites in Nottinghamshire and one in Cheshire.
Injunction lists residents groups
On that injunction order, IGas had named 35 people under the heading “believed to oppose the Claimants’ activity at the Sites”.
DrillOrDrop has already reported that this list included the residents’ group, Misson Community Action Group, and the web address for the Tinker Lane community liaison group, which works to share information about the Tinker Lane shale gas site.
The barrister for both Angus Energy and IGas, Alan Maclean QC, said the companies were willing to remove the schedules listing the names from both injunctions until the next hearing. But he said that the companies may seek to use schedules in future.
Mr Maclean told the court:
“The schedule was a mechanism for serving the injunction order. It does not suggest that people have done or are likely to do anything. It is not an injunction against anyone.”
But Zoe O’Sullivan, a court official representing people who did not have lawyers, disagreed:
“The claimants have taken it upon themselves to identify people as likely to be involved in unlawful activity. I suggest it is not just about being on a list. It is not good enough to name people on a schedule. It will have potential effects on people’s lives and this is why people have come to court today.”
Mr Maclean replied:
“These individuals have said they do not want to go on this list and we are willing for them to be taken off.”
But he added:
“It is not right that there is acceptance of some error. There is no acceptance of any error or any wrong doing.”
“Excessive” exclusion zones
Campaigners had sought to make changes to the order before the next hearing.
Ian Crane, who is opposing the IGas order, said exclusion zones on roads around the Nottinghamshire shale gas sites at Tinker Lane and Springs Road, Misson, were unnecessary and excessive. He also made the case that there should be no injunction on the IGas site at Ellesmere Port because the company had no current planning permission.
He said the exclusion zones in Nottinghamshire, which ran to several miles, had prompted considerable community anger because people had been careful to limit protests to the site entrances.
Vicki Elcoate, representing people near the Angus Energy sites at Brockham and Balcombe, argued against exclusion zones in these injunctions. She said they included long stretches of rural lanes and it was unclear where the injunction applied.
The judge maintained the interim injunction against the Ellesmere Port site in Cheshire. He said IGas had the right to use the access road to the site. On the exclusion zones, he maintained them for all the other sites until the next hearing. He said:
“I consider that cutting down the scope without considered argument would risk prejudicing the claimants.”
- DrillOrDrop was named on both the IGas and Angus Energy injunctions. We asked the court and the companies’ lawyers to remove the DrillOrDrop name and this has been agreed.
Reporting at this hearing was made possible by individual donations from DrillOrDrop readers.