An environmental campaigner has told the High Court she breached the injunction at Cuadrilla’s shale gas site near Blackpool because she was “terrified” about the damage fracking would do to her community.
Katrina Lawrie (41), who said she had dedicated her life to opposing fracking, was giving evidence at the first contempt of court case brought by a UK onshore oil and gas company for alleged breach of an injunction.
She told the hearing in Manchester:
“Deep in my heart I realised I had to try to prevent the damage.
“We needed do something to prevent such harm coming to our community.
“Fracking hadn’t happened then and we were terrified about it.”
Cuadrilla alleged a total of 5 breaches of its injunction at the Preston New Road site by Miss Lawrie, a further four by Lee Walsh (44) and two by Christopher Wilson (55).
All three deny contempt of court and are expected to argue that the injunction was unlawful because it impinged on human rights to protest, assembly and association.
If found guilty, they face a maximum sentence of two years in prison.
The court heard that Cuadrilla had been granted the most recent version of its injunction on 11 July 2018. The order outlawed specific protests. These included trespass, lock-ons, climbing on lorries, obstructing the highway and site access with the intention to disrupt Cuadrilla and conspiracy to cause disruption by delaying suppliers.
Almost a fortnight later, on 24 July 2018, Ms Lawrie, Mr Walsh and Mr Wilson, along with three other protesters, locked themselves in pairs into arm tubes outside the site.
The protest began at 7am and all six were released by a specialist police team by 1.40pm. Cuadrilla told the court it had been unable to serve papers on two of the protesters.
The company alleged the lock-on protest breached the injunction terms on blocking the site entrance and conspiracy.
Questioned by Tom Roscoe, for Cuadrilla, Miss Lawrie said she was aware of the injunction and that there was a feeling of injustice about it among protesters. She said:
“We were all upset and angry.
“We felt it would impinge on our rights to protest.”
Mr Walsh agreed that the injunction was an “inappropriate curtailment” of protest.
All three campaigners said they were not aware of the specifics.
Mr Roscoe said in mid July 2018 there were notices about the injunction on the fence around the Preston New Road site. He said:
“It is inconceivable that you were not aware that the injunction prohibited obstructing vehicles”, he said.
“You would not have risked contempt of court by not troubling to check”.
Miss Lawrie replied:
“There was lots of rumours and counter rumours. You didn’t know what to believe.”
Mr Roscoe said the site notice was “perfectly clear about what was allowed”.
“You must have known that the injunction did not allow you to block the entrance”.
He put it to Miss Lawrie:
“Before 24 July you decided the injunction did not deserve your respect.”
Miss Lawrie said:
“I was there to protest to the damage to the environment.”
“My intention was not to cause harm to Cuadrilla but to protest abut fracking and the damage it would cause.
“On 24 July, I realised I was going to have to do something, where all other methods of protest had been removed. I would have to break the terms of injunction because I was so fearful of the risk of damage to our community and the environment.”
Miss Lawrie told the court:
“We were frightened. We are not legal people. We are good people. We are frightened by the legal system.”
Mr Wilson told the court he thought the injunction should be tested.
He said Cuadrilla “should not be able to dictate the terms of the protest”. But he added that he had not intended any disrespect to the court.
Asked about where the arm tube came from, Miss Lawrie said it “turned up” at the same time she was outside the site. She said she didn’t know who had made it. She could not have released herself from the device, she said.
The court heard that the police protester removal team arrived at 11.40am and Mr Wilson was released from his lock-on device in 20 minutes.
It was put to James Dobson, Cuadrilla’s head of security, that this device was less effective than the other two. It was described in court as a “sham lock” device.
Mr Dobson said:
“I would not contest that two were better devices.”
Mr Wilson said he had not expected to be in his device for very long. It had seemed sensible to keep “better equipment” for future actions, he said.
The court also heard evidence that the lock-on protest was on the road side of a blue line painted in the site entrance. The line was said to mark the boundary between the private land of the Preston New Road site and the highway.
Mr Roscoe put it to Miss Lawrie: “You were on the highway side of the line. You intended not to trespass.”
Miss Lawrie replied:
“We felt it was a safe place in the highway because we weren’t sure where Cuadrilla’s land started.”
Mr Roscoe said the protest would have been safer if had been on the pavement.
Miss Lawrie said:
“The intention was to bring attention to fracking.”
She said generally she did not intend to delay Cuadrilla but added:
“On this particularly time, I felt that a very short disruption would bring some attention about the immediate risk to everyone’s future.”
This was an exception, she said.
An independent transport witness, Robin Carr, giving evidence for Cuadrilla, was asked whether he would draw the blue line in the same place.
“I would not”, Mr Carr said. “It would be marginally different. “
“Not in the same place?”, asked Adam Wagner, representing Miss Lawrie and Mr Walsh.
“Not precisely, no”, Mr Carr replied.
He said he didn’t know who had drawn the line and on what basis. There was a margin of error because of the inaccuracy of maps and a potential disparity of 130mm, he said.
It was put to Miss Lawrie that she was there as part of a common plan with other people. Miss Lawrie denied this.
Mr Wilson and Mr Walsh were asked why they were seen on video singing when security guards advised them about the injunction. Mr Wilson said:
“We always do that. We cannot allow them to dictate the dialogue.”
The court also heard that Miss Lawrie had taken part in protests on 1 and 3 August 2018 and on 22 September 2018. Cuadrilla alleged she breached the injunction terms on trespass, conspiracy and obstruction during those protests.
Mr Walsh was alleged to have breached the injunction terms on obstruction and conspiracy during the protest on 1 August 2018.
The case was adjourned until tomorrow morning (Wednesday 26 June 2019) when the judge, Mr Justice Pelling, will hear legal arguments about the injunction.
Updated: To correct reference to the death of one of the six participants in the lock-on protest and the date in a picture caption