Security staff working for Ineos used covert surveillance after equipment used to explore for shale gas was damaged, a court heard today.
A former employee of Ineos’s security company, now called Eclipse Risk Management, said cameras were installed around farmland in Nottinghamshire that had become “a hot spot” for damage.
He was giving evidence at the first day of the jury trial of Shaun Everest, an opponent of fracking, who has been accused of interfering with equipment. He faces two charges under the Computer Misuse Act.
Shaun Everest, who is representing himself and prefers to be known as Sudama Das, has not acknowledged the charges. He told the court today:
“I never touched a computer. The whole thing is preposterous. I said I never consented to the act.”
The case dates back to autumn 2017, when Ineos was carrying out seismic testing in the Mansfield area.
Nottingham Crown Court heard that equipment recording the survey results comprised a Remote Acquisition Unit (RAU), geophones and batteries.
Steve Wilkinson, who then handled data protection for Eclipse, told the jury that equipment had been damaged “very often” and there had “been a lot of damage to Ineos equipment”. He said:
“It caused us to increase assets on the ground.”
Asked by judge John Burgess what this meant, he said: “personnel, cameras, vehicles”.
Mr Wilkinson said Gleadthorpe Farm, also known as Bacon’s Farm, in Meden Vale, was a key location where Ineos stored vehicles and equipment. He described it as a “hot spot for damage.”
He said he put covert cameras at the farm and was he responsible for reviewing the footage.
The court was shown a short video clip from 8 November 2017, said to be from a field at the farm. It showed a man lifting equipment off the ground and throwing it over a fence.
Another Eclipse former employee, Neil Anderson described his role as a “consultant out on the ground looking after assets and equipment”.
“We had details of the equipment and where it was located. We patrolled areas on foot and in vehicles and reacted to requests from our control room.”
He said he had checked equipment in a field at Bacon’s Farm at about 11am on 3 November. He said there were four sets along the hedgeline. Two were intact, one had been interfered with and one had been disconnected, he said.
Asked how the equipment had been interfered with, Mr Anderson said:
“I can’t remember. I think the wire had been snipped.”
He told the jury:
“I exited the field and took up a position of observation. From my position, where I was standing, a gentleman who I know, who is in this court, approached the area.
“He was muttering. He didn’t speak to me.”
Mr Anderson said:
“I saw him approach the first of our devices. I could not see him do anything. He was there for seconds. He left that and went to the next one, did the same thing, and went to the third and then the fourth.”
Mr Anderson said he later inspected the equipment and found that two more devices had been interfered with. He said:
“They had been made inoperable.”
Asked how they had been made inoperable, he said he couldn’t remember.
The judge asked what was meant by “interfered with”. “Make something unable to work”, Mr Armstrong replied.
“Does it imply damage?”, the judge asked.
“It would not be something I would have thought about”, Mr Armstrong said.
Mr Armstrong said he was not qualified to say how the equipment worked. But Sudama Das said Mr Armstrong’s statement to police suggested that he had technical knowledge.
Did you know how the equipment worked, the judge asked.
“I did not know”, Mr Armstrong replied.
The jury heard that Mr Armstrong took a photo of one device on his phone but then the battery died. Mr Armstrong said the photo showed that an RAU had been disconnected and thrown into the hedge.
Cross-examining the former security staff, Sudama asked whether they were aware that Eclipse offered on its website to “reduce the threat of protester” activity at sites where operations were “unwanted”.
Neither were aware of this, nor had they visited the company’s website, they said.
Sudama Das also asked why security staff working for Ineos did not display a Security Industry Authority identity badge.
Mr Wilkinson said the staff had the right to protect their identity. Judge Burgess asked “How would members of the public know they were security personnel.”
“By asking”, Mr Wilkinson replied. He said:
“If there was a concern, police could be called and we would display the badge to a police officer”.
Before the trial began, the judge asked the prosecution to rewrite the charges so that they corresponded to the wording of the legislation.
He later told members of the jury that for the purpose of this case, a computer was a device for storing, processing and retrieving information. He said to convict Sudama Das they had to be able to answer yes to three questions:
- Had he carried out an unauthorised action in relation to a computer?
- At the time, did he know that the action was unauthorised?
- By carrying out the action, did he intend to impair the operation of any computer?
Rosemary Kavanagh, prosecuting, said the seismic testing equipment counted as a computer. She said of Sudama Das:
“His intention was to impair the operation of that computer because his intention was to impair the operation of Ineos.”
Sudama Das said the prosecution had used the Computer Misuse Act because it could not prove criminal damage. He is expected to argue that there is no case to answer.
The trial continues tomorrow. It is expected to hear from more security staff, as well as police officers and local witness of the seismic testing programme.
Reporting from this case was made possible by donations from individual DrillOrDrop readers