Rob Basto has a PhD in atmospheric physics, runs a software company and is a founder member of Sustainable Redhill (now Transition Redhill). He joined the Balcombe protests last year as part of his long-running campaign to raise awareness of climate change. Rob was arrested in September after locking himself to a water tanker leaving Cuadrilla’s site. He was charged with four offences (all of which he denied). He defended himself in court and was convicted on one charge and acquitted on the rest.
Fracking and climate change
I am opposed to fracking primarily on climate change grounds. I became increasingly aware of climate change in 2000 through articles in the press about the damage it was causing. As an attempt to get changes happening locally, I helped to set up Sustainable Redhill. Though there are quite a lot of environmentally-conscious people locally and on the council it seemed that there was no way that effective action was going to happen quickly enough. Because of this I started more active campaigning through groups such as Climate Camp.
When we first heard about the fracking at Blackpool in 2011 I helped in a banner drop from Blackpool Tower, and have been involved in campaigning about fracking since then. For me, it is very important that we do not start using new sources of fossil fuels such as shale gas because these contribute to climate change which is, in the longer term, much more dangerous than the immediate effects of fracking.
I helped at the initial meeting about fracking in Balcombe at the Victory Hall in January 2012 where Mark Miller [Cuadrilla’s then Chief Executive] came to speak in the village, and have been involved in the campaign there ever since.
I was at Balcombe on the first night of the protest camp: me and another campaigner spent the night squashed in a one-man tent across the gateway.
The next day, I left to go home half an hour before the first people were arrested for sitting on a log across the entrance. I was very involved with the camp and made frequent visits and occasional overnight stays until the protests ended in September.
At Balcombe I thought the police were OK. They were people doing their job, although that is no excuse for some of the things they did, and were on the whole nice people. I went to the Barton Moss camp for a week or so and the police were rougher there.
The police used to be a lot more violent, for example at Ratcliffe and Kingsnorth [earlier protests against coal-fired power stations], using their truncheons on protestors. That was before Ian Tomlinson [the newspaper seller killed after being hit by a police officer during the G20 protests in London in 2009]. The police are much better behaved as a result of that.
The relationship between protesters and the police sometimes reminds me of the First World War incident where the two sides played football on Christmas day.
There is no personal animosity, well not for me anyway, but we are in conflict because of our different roles.
It did seem like the police operation at Balcombe was designed to deter people from protesting but it was probably not very successful in this. I wouldn’t think it has deterred people from protesting in the future and it has probably strengthened and encouraged them.
The court case
I think the legal system has been shown to be quite fair and the judge at my trial tried to be fair. Given his knowledge of climate change it was the sort of verdict you would expect. A possible reason for appeal could be that I was only given five or ten minutes to show justification for the action I took, which is not nearly enough to convey the seriousness of climate change. I did not appeal because of the time and stress involved.
The court case itself was not particularly stressful. This was because I was representing myself and was fairly relaxed about this as the likely fine would be quite small compared to the legal costs [Rob does not qualify for legal aid].
This was my third case [Rob was convicted after a banner drop at Blackpool Tower but acquitted after a similar protest on Tower Bridge].
The experience from the previous cases helped and with my knowledge now, I think I could have been acquitted on the Blackpool charge because it was not a very strong case.
I don’t have any regrets about my protest at Balcombe. The lock-on did seem to be a successful action because it got reasonable publicity. It was on the front page of the West Sussex Times. I think people felt inspired by it.
People had been a bit disheartened when the media said people were giving up on the protest after the Reclaim the Power camp left.
The anti-fracking campaign
I think the campaign has come a long way. A lot of people are seriously starting to consider whether fracking is the right thing or not and the case for it seems to be unravelling. Surveys have shown there is not very much support for it down here.
The government doesn’t seem to be changing its mind but I feel there is growing opposition and they will eventually have to listen.
I haven’t changed the way I behave, as a result of Balcombe. I try to keep a low profile. Before I did the lock-on I was hoping someone else would do something and when they didn’t I took my action. My wife doesn’t like me doing potentially illegal things but she is supportive of the cause.
I thought it was amazing the amount of support there was at Balcombe. It brought a lot of people together.