Cuadrilla injunction trial: Anti-fracking protesters found in contempt of court

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Three anti-fracking protesters outside Manchester Civil Justice Centre before the ruling in the trial for contempt of court, 28 June 2019

Three anti-fracking campaigners have been found in contempt of court for taking part in a protest outside Cuadrilla’s shale gas site in Lancashire.

A judge at the High Court in Manchester said he would not send the protesters to prison. He said the most severe penalty would be a suspended prison sentence. But he said he had not reached a conclusion on sentencing.

In the first case of its kind in the UK, Mr Justice Pelling QC ruled that Katrina Lawrie (41), Christopher Wilson (55) and Lee Walsh (44) breached the terms of an injunction in force at the Preston New Road site near Blackpool.

They had locked their arms inside tubes in a protest in the site entrance on 24 July 2018. The action prevented lorries getting in or out of the site for about six and a half hours.

Four months ago, the three, along with two other people, were acquitted at Blackpool Magistrates Court of criminal offences arising from the same protest.

Judge Pelling had granted the injunction to Cuadrilla in July 2018. This outlawed specific types of protest, as well as obstruction at the site, trespass and conspiracy to delay or cause inconvenience against Cuadrilla or its contractors.

He told a packed courtroom this morning:

“There can be no doubt that the respondents breached the injunction. It is beyond reasonable doubt that they intended to slow or stop the traffic.”

Judge Pelling said the terms of an injunction must be sufficiently clear to be lawful. But he rejected evidence from the protesters that they did not know what was covered by the order as “incredible”.

He said photographs showed it would be impossible for Miss Lawrie not to have seen notices about the injunction. It was inconceivable that Mr Wilson would not have found out about the order, he said. Security guards were pictured trying to point out the terms to all three, the judge added.

“I find proof to a criminal standard that each of the respondents knew about the terms of the order.”

Judge Pelling said the language of the relevant parts of the injunction was “entirely clear”.

He adjourned sentencing for the three protesters and Friends of the Earth to seek a variation of the terms of the injunction.

First case for breach of injunction

This is the first time anti-fracking campaigners have been brought to court for breaching the terms of an injunction. It is also thought to be the first time a company has attempted to bring proceedings against protesters for alleged breaches of a “persons unknown” injunction.

During a two-day trial earlier this week, Cuadrilla argued that the protesters “deliberately breached” the injunction and “showed a reckless disregard for the authority of this court”. Lawyers said the three had sought to cause delay and inconvenience to Cuadrilla and its contractors. Reports from day one and day two

The company also alleged that Miss Lawrie breached the terms of the injunction at two protests on 1 and 3 August 2018 and one on 22 September 2018. Mr Walsh was accused of another breach on 1 August 2018.

The judge said the evidence on these protests was proved to a criminal standard. But he said it would not be in the public interest to take any further action or impose further penalties, he said.

Lawyers for the protesters had argued that a Court of Appeal decision which quashed terms of a similar injunction granted to Ineos was binding on the court in Manchester.

They said the three protesters could not have fully understood the injunction and that it was too vague to be lawful. They also argued that human rights law requires the judge to assess whether the actions of the protesters were reasonable and proportionate. The legal team said given the importance of the case and the peaceful and limited nature of the protests the actions were both reasonable and proportionate.

“Entire movement on trial”

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Christopher Wilson, Katrina Lawrie and Lee Walsh with supporters outside Manchester Civil Justice Centre at the start of the case

After the hearing, Katrina Lawrie said:

“We were acutely aware that although only three people were on trial, the entire anti-fracking movement has been on trial in this case. The right of the entire population to peacefully protest has been eroded by these private injunctions.

“Although being found guilty is disappointing it is not surprising to any of us.

“I am sad it has come to this. I am frustrated that we have seen our rights eroded but we will continue as a movement to keep on the fight against a dirty fossil fuels industry and, if anything, it strengthens our stand to continue the fight.”

“Dangerous, disrespectful and illegal activity”

In a statement, Francis Egan, chief executive of Cuadrilla, said:

“We respect the right to legal and peaceful protest but too often we have seen the opposite with dangerous, disrespectful and illegal activity around our shale gas exploration site in Preston New Road. Local people, our staff and contractors have rights too and they must be equally protected.

“What we are hearing, on a day to day basis from our local communities, is that the disruptive activities of a small group of activists is their main problem. Not Cuadrilla. Not the exaggerated claims about micro seismicity which causes no more vibration than that experienced everyday by standing by a busy road and not the hydraulic fracture process itself, which the wide ranging and comprehensive regulatory monitoring of our operations has proven to be safe.

“The court heard how the defendants acted in ways that were dangerous and designed to cause maximum disruption to people who daily use Preston New Road to go to and from work or drop their children at school. The defendants wrongly believed that their illegal protest should be allowed to interfere with and supercede everyone else’s right to work, travel or go about their day to day business.

“Cuadrilla is genuinely sorry for the inconvenience experienced by local people and will do everything possible to minimise it, including through legal means such as this injunction.”

“Great concern that peaceful protesters are in contempt of court”

Friends of the Earth is seeking to bring the terms of the Cuadrilla injunction into line with changes to the Ineos injunction made by the Court of Appeal.

The organisation’s head of political affairs, Dave Timms, said:

“Substantial parts of the Cuadrilla injunction are unlawful and incompatible with the Court of Appeal ruling on the Ineos order. Nothing that has happened today changes that.

“We maintain that these draconian injunctions are disproportionate restrictions on free speech and the right to protest and it is of great concern that peaceful protesters have been found in contempt of court.”

“Fossil fuel industries should be on trial”

The Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas,s said:

“Whilst the government hollowly declares a climate emergency, it is people like these three protesters who are taking the action we need to tackle the climate crisis. Companies like Cuadrilla should not be allowed to bully their way through the courts. It’s the fossil fuel industries instead who should be on trial”

“Chilling effect”

Robert Lizar solicitors, which represented the protesters, said:

“Injunctions such as this have a chilling effect on the right to peaceful protest. Britain has a proud history of protest. It forms the essence of civic society… Civil disobedience has long been exercised as a form of legitimate protest.

Anna Vickerstaff from climate campaign organisation said:

“The gross power given to corporations being granted blanket injunctions to ‘persons unknown’ is an affront to democracy.

“The prosecution of peaceful protesters in this way is especially alarming after a similar injunction from Ineos was deemed “too wide and uncertain” at the court of appeal earlier this year.

“Instead of being punished, these protesters should be applauded for taking action to resist an unwanted and unneeded industry that perpetuates the climate crisis. The local community and national opinion are behind them, the government should step up to the table and ban fracking immediately.”

  • The hearing resumes on 2 and 3 September 2019 for sentencing and an application by Friends of the Earth and the three campaigners to vary the Cuadrilla injunction order.

Reporting at this hearing was made possible by individual donations from DrillOrDrop readers.

36 replies »

  1. Injunctions such as this are required. Peaceful protest IS allowed under the Human Rights Act. However, what every protester forgets is that it should be “within prescribed law”

    • The “prescribed law” has existing limits and remedies. Nothing more is or was required. The idea that a company should be able to pay to have greater limits and hugely more onerous penalties inflicted on people is frankly quite ludicrous in a modern democracy.

      • Is this that representative democracy you defend so much John that has brought us to this point, what utter nonsense. You should be delighted with the decision as it protects exactly what you promote.

      • You are absolutely spot-on with that comment. “Prescribed Law” is and rightfully should be decided by elected representatives in Parliament. It is not open to gerrymandering, wich is eqivalent to what the fracking companies have attemtped, sadly reasonably successfully to-fate to achieve. No wonder the judge in this case, facing legal challenges to the principles, is quivering.

    • The protests of the suffragettes were not within ‘prescribed law’. Rosa Parks sitting in the white section of a bus was not within the ‘prescribed law’. Elected representatives would not have brought about women’s suffrage nor the civil rights movement had it not been for illegal acts of protest. The most effective and important protests in history were illegal at the time.

      Also, injunctions such as this are *not* required. We don’t need more oil and gas. We need more renewable sources of energy and the technology to harness it. Besides, nobody is above public scrutiny and protest. That includes governments but most of all it includes private companies who have even less incentive to act in the interests of the common good than elected officials. And we all know how bad elected officials can be!

      • Actually Cameron, Rosa Parks actions occurred and were dealt with within the prescribed law. She was arrested for civil disobedience in violating Alabama segregation laws. There was no company bought injunction “enhancing” the prescribed law and increasing the stakes as we are seeing here. You need to get your history right and understand the difference between criminal law and civil injunctions.

    • Protest “Within the prescribed law” – these people were arrested by police at the time of the lock on. They were later acquitted in court. Companies such as Cuadrilla with their injunctions are seeking to buy an extra layer of law and remove people’s human rights just to suit themselves.

  2. The last time 3 protesters were given jail sentences,

    Three protesters jailed for blocking access to a fracking site have walked free after the court of appeal quashed their sentences, calling them “manifestly excessive”.

    All 3 are back protesting.

    • The first Judge to hear this case and jail our friends was quickly shown up to have family links to the Oil and Gas industry!

  3. Quite Correct. They seem to forget that they openly brag in their posts on Facebook about how long they have delayed Cuadrilla and their suppliers and how much it has cost. Not everybody is as daft as they are!!!!

    • More legal fees and bad PR racking up against Cuadrilla. They are already haemorrhaging tens of millions of investors money and increasingly losing public support.

  4. Hang on, what have done to stop fracking, I’m yet to see them stand up for civil liberties, they’re climate change emergency hoping to make a few bob out of the decision hypocrites

  5. Cuadrilla statement:
    We know there a strong views on either side of the debate, but a domestic shale gas supply will help create local jobs and tax revenues, reduce our reliance on foreign gas imports and generate substantially lower CO2 emissions than imported gas. The CCC in their recent “net zero” report recognised that we will continue to be using significant quantities of natural gas in the UK out to 2050 – so surely it makes more sense to produce it here?
    #netzero2050 #localgasproduction #homeproducedgas

    • Eli – Cuadrilla are 100% correct. Local gas production can be a really good backup that allows decentralised energy production and allows a massive cut in GHG emissions. It also provides feedstock for hydrogen production which can be used to replace methane for central heating etc. The CO2 emissions can be captured and stored in the depleted gas reservoirs and saline aquifers in the Irish Sea.

    • Not a very nice bunch, are they Jackie? Vying to see who is the super hero anti fracker. Just another sign there are a number who feel their opinions trump (whoops) everyone else. It is a regular occurrence, from my experience.

      Strange, but I have yet to observe any falling out amongst the non antis. Perhaps it is because there is nothing to gain from it?

  6. I find the comments printed from Ecicidal Mainiac Egan disgusting in the extreme!
    He has no concept of the hazards his industry are placing not just Lancashire in but also the rest of the World!
    Locally from health and environmental damage and elsewhere from Climate Destruction!

    • Peter – you keep writing the same rubbish without giving a single coherent argument to back up your suggestion that producing gas in Lancashire will increase GHG emissions more than importing it from Norway and Qatar. I guess it’s not surprising because people like you make their decisions through gut feelings rather than scientific fact and argument

  7. Note for Eggers.
    Microseismicity matters because it reveals how frackers avoid to do adequate surveying.
    To save money
    To avoid delays.
    And so drill through microfaults, they should avoid.
    Significant microfaults(1-5m throw) when fracked, trigger earthquakes (during or post frack) which cause damage.
    Damage to subsurface equipment, and possible surface damage too.
    The only question is how much you want to risk it.

    Stories implying Microseismicity doesn’t matter are you gambling our safety to avoid the expense and complication of avoiding microfault.

    The traffic light system is a backstop not a bloody probe!!!!!!!

    If Eggers wants to invoke traffic light regs as an excuse, then he should read the small print.
    Step 1 use subsurface microfault surveying and and available subsurface data (ie. Mining surveys) to detect faults
    Step 3. Monitor Microseismicity for OCCASIONAL activation, and warning that operations are directly interacting with faults.
    Step 4. DONT FRACK FAULTS and act surprised when antifrackers mock your King Canute style bravado.

    How many times will he roll out the lazy lies, until another Preese Hall I guess…

  8. Judith Green, the keenest of fossil fuel advocates, an ad hominem attacker…. still hating all who dare to look past the sales script and bad bad science I see.

    You speak As if forty years of fossil fuel lobbying had not made systemic biased and deliberately nihilistic decisions against scientific fact to deliberately destroy GHG reduction, and to bias argument. They did, I suggest it would be best not to invoke such authority with such a legacy of lies and emissions

    Riddle me this
    If fracked gas lcoe is 4-500gCO2per MWh and biogas is 10-20gCO2per MWh which is a real transition fuel and which is delay?

    The GHG of fuel from Norway vs UK fracked. Similarly bad emissions for energy production.
    BUT fracked gas looses for emissions and local pollution, the use of diesel transport and pumps, the cement for pads, the water movement and disposal, etc, etc, are where the extra emissions are generated. One bulk movement from Norway /Qatar from an established nonfracked gas producing region is far less distribution related emissions, and doesn’t require destroying our landscape with thousands of frack pads.

    • Derek – you don’t seem to seem to have improved your geology. It is often impossible to image faults of a size that if reactivated will cause seismicity so you’re point about inadequate surveys is complete rubbish. Even when one conducts very dense surveys the accuracy of the lateral locations of faults is not particularly accurate due to processing errors and uncertainties in the elastic anisotropy of the overburden. The point is that seismcity is a total irrelevance unless one is fracking in a very seismically active area. Before you whine on about casing deformation and leakage, please provide an example of where that has occurred. I also hope that you will object equally about seismicity for the next hydropower and geothermal energy projects as you do with fracking given that both have created higher Ml events.

    • Derek, biogas is far more polluting to ground water than shale gas production will ever be and there will certainly be hidden emissions that make its CO2/kwH far higher than you state.

      Maybe you could also point to some peer reviewed papers to back up your gut feelings about the relative CO2 emissions from Norway/Qatar than from UK shale. Of course, the point is that we also need to pay for Qatari and Norwegian workers to extract the gas as well as taxes to their goverments – are you going to be harvesting Jeremy’s money tree to pay for it??

    • Derek – BTW – I think it’s perfectly reasonable, indeed essential, to argue about the relative carbon emission of various energy sources. The thing that I object to is the way that Peter Roberts and others like him just seem to mention the word “climate change” and see it as a win all argument against shale gas production and almost implying that stopping fracking in the UK will dramatically reduce our GHG emissions – it won’t. I don’t know if Peter does this out of ignorance (I suspect that to be the case) or is just trying to misguide the other gullible anti-frackers.

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