The trial of an environmental campaigner was abandoned halfway through yesterday when the court heard that Humberside Police had a force-wide policy against a particular form of protest.
The prosecutor asked a district judge at Hull Magistrates court to drop the case after two police officers gave evidence on the policy.
The charge of obstructing the highway against Eddie Thornton, from North Yorkshire, was dismissed.
Mr Thornton had been arrested outside Rathlin Energy’s oil and gas site at West Newton on 11 December 2018. His was the first arrest since exploration at the East Yorkshire site resumed last year.
His lawyer, Helen White, said the court heard from a police constable and then a detective sergeant that Humberside Police had a force-wide policy against slow-walking protests.
This is a widely used tactic against oil and gas operators, where campaigners walk slowly in front of delivery vehicles.
North Yorkshire Police facilitated some slow walking protests on the route to Third Energy’s proposed fracking site at Kirby Misperton in Ryedale. Courts in Lancashire, North Yorkshire, Sussex and Surrey have acquitted some protesters arrested for this form of protest.
Ms White said:
“It was an important declaration from Humberside Police. It rang alarm bells for me, and the district judge and the prosecution.”
Ms White said there was a qualified right to protest on the highway under articles 10 and 11 of the Human Rights Act.
“When a public authority interferes with rights under the articles, it has to be justified, reasonable and proportionate.
“This is a very significant case.
“This [policy] was an unjustified interference in the article rights.”
Ms White said a lack of dialogue between police and campaigners, and the police decision not to allow slow walking, had resulted in the case being unsuccessfully prosecuted.
DrillOrDrop invited Humberside Police to comment on the policy. A spokesperson said:
“Evidence was presented to the Crown Prosecution Service in relation to this case.
“We accept the decision that was taken when the case was brought to Hull Magistrates Court.”
A spokesperson for Humberside Police and Crime Commissioner said:
“The Commissioner’s role does not cover operational policing and your request should be directed to Humberside Police for comment on any operational policy the force may have.
“The Commissioner has not been made aware of any such policy by Humberside Police but issues of this nature are addressed in scheduled governance and accountability meetings with the force and this particular issue will be clarified at the next meeting at the end of November.”
Updated at 7.30pm with statement from Humberside Police