A Nottinghamshire man accused of interfering with equipment used to explore for shale gas has been found not guilty of offences under the Computer Misuse Act.
Shaun Everest, who uses the name Sudama Das, was acquitted at lunchtime after a three-and-half day jury trial at Nottingham Crown Court.
It had been alleged that Sudama Das, an opponent of fracking, interfered with equipment belonging to the shale gas company, Ineos Upstream, on 3 and 8 November 2017 and that data had been lost.
The equipment comprised battery, geophones and Remote Acquisition Units or RAUs. They were used by Ineos to record the results of seismic testing at Gleadthorpe Farm, in Meden Vale, near Mansfield.
The tests used large vehicles, known as vibroseis machines or thumper trucks, to create vibrations that helped to assess the prospects for shale gas and the best places to drill exploration wells.
At the opening of the case, the jury was told that a computer was defined as a device for storing, processing and retrieving information.
To convict under the Computer Misuse Act, the jury had to be able to answer yes to three questions:
- Had Sudama Das 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?
Sudama Das said the seismic testing at Gleadthorpe Farm was near his home.
“When people started installing equipment up there and wouldn’t talk to me about how they’d assessed the risks, I read up about it.
“Nothing that anyone told me, or that I could find, suggested that the equipment I could see lying around was a computer which could be interfered with. Because it’s not. An RAU stores data, and information can be retrieved from it. But a book does that.”
“What we’ve not seen is the evidence that data is processed in the RAU. In fact, looking at the diagram in the manufacturer’s brochure, it’s clear that information is sent to a remote computer to be processed.”
Sudama Das admitted that he disconnected the equipment. In one case, this was seen by an Ineos security contractor. But he said that as far as he was aware, the RAU collected data only when the vibroseis machines were operating. He said they were not running at the time of his actions.
“In disconnecting the equipment, I had no reason to believe I was causing harm.
“I certainly didn’t think what I was doing was capable of interfering with the data gathered and it remained unclear from the Ineos witness that any information has actually been lost as a result of my activities.”
He said that there was plenty of evidence that fracking caused harm and added:
“I acted openly, peacefully and in accordance with my conscience.”
After the trial, Sudama Das said the was disappointed that redress to him had not been dealt with immediately. He also said “wrongly stored information” was being kept on official records.