Three anti-fracking campaigners are due in court tomorrow (Tuesday) in what is believed to be the first trial for an alleged breach of a protest injunction granted to a UK onshore oil or gas company.
The case, at Manchester Civil Justice Centre, follows a lock-on protest outside Cuadrilla’s fracking site at Preston New Road near Blackpool on 24 July 2018.
Chris Wilson (55), Katrina Lawrie (41) and Lee Walsh (44) have denied breaching the injunction in force around the site.
If found guilty, they would be held to be in contempt of court. The maximum sentence is two years imprisonment.
The protesters described their action at the time as “a deliberate attempt to highlight the abuse of the law” by the shale gas company.
It was the first challenge to the injunction granted 13 days earlier to Cuadrilla. A court order outlawed a range of actions by “persons unknown”, including lock-on protests, trespass, slow walking in front of delivery lorries, obstruction of the highway and climbing on top of vehicles.
Cuadrilla’s barrister had described the injunction as a “just and convenient and a proportionate interference with the protestors’ human rights.”
After the protest, Cuadrilla said it would take legal action against the six people involved. DrillOrDrop understands papers were not served on three of the protesters.
The remaining three are expected to argue in court this week that the injunction granted to Cuadrilla was not lawful.
Their case is that it interfered with the public right to protest, right to assembly and right to association under Articles 8, 9, 10 of the Human Rights Act. The trial is expected to last three or four days.
Nick Danby, a local resident living near the Preston New Road site, said:
“After years of bullying their way through sustained public opposition in order to begin fracking in Lancashire, Cuadrilla is now attempting to throw people in jail to silence the movement against them.
“Sending protesters to jail has a chilling effect on the right to assemble and the right to protest. This injunction was designed to make people too afraid to protest, but it won’t work. There is no public support for fracking and investors are getting cold feet, while the three in court today have an entire community behind them.’’
DrillOrDrop asked Cuadrilla for details of the case. A spokesperson for the company said:
”We won’t be commenting on the hearing in advance and it would be inappropriate to go into detail about a case which is due to take place.”
An injunction similar to that granted to Cuadrilla has been successfully challenged at the Court of Appeal.
In April 2019, three law lords ruled that several parts of an injunction granted to Ineos Upstream were unlawful.
They struck out sections applying to protests on the public highway, including slow walking, climbing onto vehicles and blocking the road. They also quashed the order on protests against the supply chain.
The ruling in that case concluded:
“A person faced with such an injunction may well be chilled into not obstructing the highway at all.”
The ruling said the order was “both too wide and insufficiently clear”. It said:
“The citizen’s right of protest is not to be diminished by advance fear of committal except in the clearest of cases.”
The Ineos injunction was first granted in July 2017. Terms similar to those in the original Ineos order later appeared in injunctions granted to other oil and gas companies.
Preston New Road
Cuadrilla was first granted an injunction in 2014. The latest version runs until 2020.
Cuadrilla recently sought approval of a hydraulic fracturing plan for its second well at Preston New Road, PNR2.
Fracking of the first well, PNR1-z, caused more than 50 small earth tremors. The company lobbied government to review the regulations on fracking-induced seismicity, known as the traffic light system. So far, ministers and the regulator, the Oil & Gas Authority, have said there will not be a review.
- Supporters of the three people on trial are expected to gather outside Manchester Civil Justice Centre tomorrow morning (Tuesday 25 June 2019).