Oil company in court to finalise protest injunction

UK Oil & Gas was back at the High Court this morning in what could be the final hearing in its long-running attempt to restrict protests outside its sites.

Protest at Horse Hill site, 1 June 2020. Photo: Used with the owner’s consent

The company was seeking to make permanent a radically scaled-back version of its interim injunction first sought in March2018.

A ruling by the judge, Sir Anthony Mann, is expected tomorrow morning (30/6/2021).

The original injunction was described by opponents of onshore oil and gas operations as “unprecedented”, “draconian” and “an attack on freedom of expression and democracy”.

Lawyers from environmental campaigners regarded it as one of most wide-ranging injunctions at English onshore oil and gas sites.

It sought to prevent “persons unknown” from taking part in varied types of protest, many legal, at UKOG premises including its Guildford headquarters and three oil sites.

As well as outlawing trespass and criminal damage, the prohibited actions also included obstructing the company and its contractors on the highway, photographing employees, publishing negative comments about suppliers and demonstrating in protest exclusion zones.

The proposed final order, presented at an online hearing today, referred to just five named people. More than 100, who had been added to the injunction in March 2020, have been removed.

The order now covers one site, at Horse Hill in Surrey, and restricts three forms of protest:

  • Trespass
  • Climbing on lorries in the site entrance area
  • Obstruction that prevents the company and its contractors entering or leaving the site

Three of the remaining defendants were linked by UKOG to protests during 2017-2019. The company said the two others took part in an action in 2020. None of the five were in court.

Timothy Polli QC, for the company, said their protests included occupations of Horse Hill and a lock-on outside the site gate.

He said the five were “all persons who have clearly and incontrovertibly behaved unlawfully in the past” in the way UKOG sought to prevent. It was, he said, part of an organised campaign against the company’s activities at Horse Hill.

Mr Polli said:

“[the defendants] might, in good conscience, have considered that their unlawful behaviour was morally justified by the need to pursue or advance the campaign, but any such conviction only increases the probability that their unlawful conduct will be repeated.”

He said the protests were not “victim-less wrongs”. They had cost the company money and the sums were “not insubstantial”, he said.

The judge said he wanted to consider the implications for the UKOG injunction of a decision by the Supreme Court judgement last week in a case about protests at an arms fair in London. That court acquitted a group of protesters who had blockaded the Defence and Security International event in 2017. It ruled that protests could be a lawful excuse to block roads.

The UKOG injunction ruling is due to be given at 10.30am.

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