A group of campaigners will argue at the High Court tomorrow (2/4/2020) that an oil company’s injunction against protest is “unlawful, unfair and breaches the rights to free speech”.
Local residents and campaign groups have asked the court to quash the interim injunction, granted to UK Oil & Gas plc (UKOG) more than 18 months ago.
The injunction outlaws specific types of protest at the company’s sites at Horse Hill in Surrey and Broadford Bridge in West Sussex.
DrillOrDrop reported last month that UKOG had also applied to the court for the injunction to cover another 116 people.
But the Weald Action Group, a network of campaigners in south east England, said it would give evidence to the court that UKOG’s approach had been flawed:
“UKOG should start again using the correct legal processes, especially given judgements in other recent injunction cases which say that the approach UKOG has used is unlawful, unfair and breaches the right to free speech and to protest about the effects on climate change and environmental damage of fossil fuel extraction.”
Five members of the group, who volunteered to be defendants in the case, said UKOG’s agents had failed to identify properly most of the additional 116 people.
The company also failed to notify the new people, except for short-lived messages sent to Facebook pages administered by campaign groups, they said.
They will argue that the list of extra people contained:
- People wrongly identified
- People who have taken part in peaceful protest that did not breach the injunction
- People who had never been near UKOG’s sites in Surrey and Sussex
- People who protested four or more years ago
Submissions have been sent to the court from administrators of Facebook pages, the defendants said, asking not to be targeted for the service of legal documents.
Ann Stewart and Emily Mott, of Markwells Wood Watch in West Sussex, said:
“It can be very worrying to receive such a notice and the implication is that we take part in, and support, unlawful activities. This is not the case”.
A local priest has said organisers of peaceful protests, like Faith at the Gate events at Horse Hill, also felt targeted. The Rev Helen Burnett, vicar of St Peter and St Paul’s Church at Chaldon, in Surrey, said:
“I am shocked that peaceful events and organisations have had their data acquired from social media, which is in itself a bullying tactic to frighten peaceful citizens from expressing their heartfelt moral opposition to the drilling at Horse Hill.”
Lucy Barford, from Dorking, said local residents concerned about climate change did not feel able to protest because the injunction was unclear about what was acceptable. She said:
“As a full-time parent to two young children, I simply cannot risk accidentally breaching the injunction when the penalties can include a custodial sentence, so I feel as if my right to peacefully protest has been taken away”.
UKOG was directed by the court to add the extra people to the injunction, rather than continue to refer to “persons unknown” carrying out specific acts. This followed a court ruling against a “persons unknown” injunction sought by the retailer, Canada Goose. More details here
A UKOG spokesperson said the company had served people with court documents by Facebook, Twitter, hand-delivered copies and a press release. All these approaches had been permitted by the court, the spokesperson said.
A trial in December 2020 or January 2021 will decide whether the UKOG interim injunction should be made final.
Yesterday, the company’s most recent accounts said the final injunction orders would seek to restrain trespass, obstructing its sites, blocking the public highway, slow walking, standing in front of vehicles, climbing onto vehicles or trailers or attaching themselves to equipment.
The accounts said:
“The orders will be limited to what is necessary to protect UKOG’s lawful business and to prevent unlawful protest and trespass.
“UKOG will continue to take whatever action may be necessary to protect itself against unlawful protest activity and trespass at its operating sites. It will continue to recognise and support the right of lawful protest as a fundamental human right.”
- Tomorrow’s case (2/4/2020) is due to be heard by Chief Master Marsh at 10.30am. DrillOrDrop understands the hearing will be conducted over Skype. We have asked for access to report the hearing. Cases at the High Court are usually listed here from about 4pm on the day before.