Balcombe anti-fracking protests: Caroline Lucas on trial in Brighton today

Caroline Lucas set to appear in court today over fracking protest

Anti-fracking campaigners

Anti-fracking campaigner Vanessa Vine

An anti-fracking campaigner's slogan

First published in News
Last updated

WITH VIDEO: The moment Green MP Caroline Lucas was arrested at the height of anti-fracking protests in Balcombe was shown at Brighton Magistrates' Court today.

DVD footage taken during demonstrations outside energy firm Cuadrilla's exploratory oil drilling site on the outskirts of Balcombe on August 19 last year showed the Brighton Pavilion MP being asked to move away from an emergency access entrance where she was sitting with other protesters, or risk being arrested.

The 53-year-old did not move because she wanted to show solidarity to the other protesters, the trial at Brighton Magistrates' Court heard.

An officer was heard asking her if there he was anything he could do which would make her move but she refused and was arrested.

Lucas, from Brighton, is charged with wilful obstruction of the highway and breaching Section 14 of the Public Order Act.

Josef Dobraszczyk, 22, of Kingsway Avenue, Bristol, Ruth Jarman, 50, of Kiln Gardens, Hartley Wintney, Hook, Hampshire, Sheila Menon, 42, of Pellerin Road, north east London, and Ruth Potts, 39, of Pomeroy House, Bridgetown, Totnes, Devon, are also in the dock charged with the same offences.

All five defendants deny the charges.

Prosecutor Jonathan Edwards told the court a large camp had been formed around the entrance to the drilling site and that direct action, including people locking themselves to each other, gates or vehicles had already taken place.

He said that because of the sheer number of protesters present, a lot of police officers were drafted in and conditions were inposed under section 14 of the Public Order Act from August 16 to 21 which was deemed necessary by police so that the demonstrators had a designated area to protest without blocking access to the site.

But on August 19, a large crowd of 300 demonstrators gathered outside the site meaning the B2036 London Road had to be closed, the court heard.

Mr Edwards said: "Some demonstrators had chosen to sit down in the entrance to the site and thereby were blocking access to it. Some linked arms, others locked on."

The court was told that at 1.10pm a loud hailer was used to read out the section 14 order to protesters and officers then entered the crowd to explain what was required.

Copies of the order were also given to demonstrators and police DVD footage showed Lucas with the order in her lap.

During police interview, the MP told police that when she had sat down at 10.30am that day there was no indication of a designated area for protesters.

She also said she had wanted to send a clear message to the Government that fracking was not needed or wanted and that she did not believe she was blocking anyone trying to gain access as no drilling was taking place that day.

She said had scanned the section 14 notice when it fell into her lap and understood the gist of it but did not move because she wanted to show solidarity to the other protesters, the court heard.

Mr Edwards told the court that the other defendants will argue that the section 14 notice was unnecessary, unreasonable and disproportionate and that they were unclear or unaware of the conditions imposed.

Around 100 supporters gathered outside the court before the trial, including politician and former page 3 girl Marina Pepper and Vanessa Vine, a Balcombe resident and founder of Frack Free Sussex.

They waved placards and banners, danced, sang and played music, cheering as Lucas and the other defendants walked up to the court building together.

The defendants stopped briefly outside for Sheila Menon to read a statement on their behalf.

She said: "On August 19, we took part in a peaceful protest in Balcombe, against fracking.

"We are here to defend ourselves.

"Balcombe is the start of a major struggle over the search and exploitation of yet more fossil fuels  - and the stakes could hardly be higher.

"This week the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report will be published, which is based on thousands of peer-reviewed studies and put together by hundreds of respected scientists.

"Leaked drafts suggest it will predict that climate change will cause violent conflict, displace millions of people and wipe trillions of dollars off the global economy. Time is running out.

"The latest science suggests that as much as 80% of known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground if we are to have any hope of avoiding dangerous climate change.

"In a number of other countries, fracking is banned.  We remain deeply concerned at the prospect of fracking here in the UK.

"We'd like to thank the people gathered here for all their support.

"We have been advised by our lawyer to make no further comment at this stage."

Hydraulic fracturing - or fracking - involves pumping water and chemicals deep into the ground at high pressure to fracture shale rock and release gas.Opponents to the method have voiced fears that it could harm water resources, the surrounding environment and cause small earthquakes.

Sussex Police Temporary Chief Constable Giles York, who was Deputy Chief Constable during last year's protests, told the court the section 14 order had been put in place because of changes to the number of people who would be attending the protests.

He said the force had received intelligence that climate camp No Dash For Gas would be coming to Balcombe rather than Nottingham and they were expecting 1,500 to 2,000 people to turn up.

Mr York said: "The purpose to me for a section 14 was for facilitating lawful and meaningful protest, allowing people close enough access to that which they were protesting about for it to have significance.

"But I was trying to balance it against the needs of the people trying to work at the site, for people to get to the site without intimidation, and maintaining the integrity and safety of the site by keeping open emergency access routes."

Mr York said he reasonably believed that a public assembly could result in public disorder, a risk to public safety, serious damage to property, serious disruption or intimidation.

He said: "I thought it was necessary to give the officers at the scene the option of enforcing the section 14 order."

The court heard Mr York had made a correction to the draft order to bring clarity around the reasons why access was needed to the south of the site, the entrance on London Road.

He told the hearing that he had looked at another route via a sawmill as an alternative to but was told it was not an option.

Mr York said: "Trying to manage large crowds is very difficult. It's not merely a case of saying 'can you clear the entrance please'."

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