The first anti-fracking campaigners found in contempt of court in the UK for breaching a protest injunction received suspended prison sentences this morning.
A High Court judge sentenced Katrina Lawrie, Christopher Wilson and Lee Walsh, who live near Cuadrilla’s fracking site, to four weeks in prison, suspended for two years.
Ms Lawrie was sentenced to a further two month sentence, suspended for two years, to run consecutively.
The campaigners had been found guilty three months ago of breaching the injunction during protests outside the site in 2018.
On 24 July 2018, along with three others they joined their arms together through tubes, blocking the entrance to the Preston New Road site for about three hours.
At a sentencing hearing in Manchester this morning, judge Mark Pelling, said:
“Harm was caused, although not serious harm, and there is a risk of continuing protests.
He said the campaigners had not shown remorse and their protest had required police deployment and a two-day trial earlier this summer:
“I conclude that a suspended prison sentence is appropriate.”
He said a protest by Miss Lawrie, on 3 August 2018, in which she stepped in front of a delivery lorry, carried a “serious risk of death or injury” to the driver of the vehicle. He said:
“This was aggravated by no acknowledgement, apology or assurance that it would not happen again.”
He chose not to impose penalties on other breaches of injunctions by Miss Lawrie and Mr Walsh.
But he said:
“A breach of a court order is always serious because it undermines the administration of justice.”
The judge awarded Cuadrilla’s costs against the campaigners. DrillOrDrop understands they could amount to £70,000.
But he did not impose an order, sought by Cuadrilla, that would have prohibited them from going within 250m of the site entrance and prevented them from protesting at the site.
All three campaigners said they would appeal against the committal for contempt of court. They will argue that the High Court should not have found them in contempt of court because the injunction order was not clear and certain enough.
After the hearing, Christopher Wilson told the Guardian:
“It’s an absolute obscenity that a corporation can put private profit over the health and wellbeing of people – my kids and everybody else’s,” he said. “Their ‘might is right’ approach has been used to override our human rights and criminalise our protest. We’ve seen enough evidence that their activity – which Lancashire did not want – endangers everyone living there. The fight goes on.”
Katie de Kauwe, a lawyer with Friends of the Earth, said:
“We are disappointed with the severity of the sentences that have been handed down. We think they are disproportionate and hard and don’t accord with the tradition in English law of treating peaceful protesters motivated by good faith and beliefs with some leniency in sentencing.”
Yesterday Richard Brigden, for Christopher Wilson, said the campaigners may already have been vindicated following more than 100 seismic events caused by operations at Preston New Road, including the UK’s strongest fracking-induced tremor.
Adam Wagner, representing Miss Lawrie and Mr Walsh, said:
“It is not my clients who are the real danger here. It is Cuadrilla.”
This was the first time anti-fracking campaigners had been brought to court for breaching the terms of a protest 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.
A suspended sentence means that the campaigners will not go to prison immediately. Judge Pelling said they must comply with the injunction order for two years to avoid serving the sentence.
- Judge Pelling also ruled this morning on the campaigners’ challenge to the terms of the injunction. Separate piece on DrillOrDrop here.