Four anti-fracking activists have been found guilty of blocking a highway during protests in Balcombe last summer.
But another five also at the protest outside energy firm Cuadrilla’s test drilling site last August were cleared of the same charge at Brighton Magistrates’ Court yesterday.
Eight of the nine were cleared of a second charge of breaching the public order following the removal of the protesters by police on August 19.
James Jones, Chris Seal, Barry Slipper and Matthew Whitney had all taken part in a “lock-on” – where protesters attach themselves to each other – and were found guilty of wilfully obstructing the public highway.
District Judge William Ashworth said a lawful protest could allow the blocking of a highway under the Human Rights Act. But he said the four had gone “too far”.
He added: “Articles 10 and 11 are not trump cards to allow any obstruction. They could quite easily have ceased their protest at a reasonable point during the police interaction but chose to take it as far as they possibly could.”
Mr Ashworth said the public highway was the only access to the site for emergency vehicles.
Mr Ashworth said it was clear the other defendants also “wished to delay the police” but he could not be sure that their actions were “excessive”.
Delivering his judgement, Mr Ashworth said there was no evidence that written notices were put up in Balcombe about the section 14 order – which gives police the power to impose conditions on assemblies to prevent serious public disorder, serious criminal damage or serious disruption to the life of the community.
He could not find any of the eight defendants charged with breaching public order guilty of violating the order.
Mr Ashworth singled out Slipper, 47, of Southampton, as the “organiser” of the protest who had “dragged” in “some impressionable young people”.
He was fined £200, and ordered to pay £300 costs and a £20 surcharge.
Jones, 19, of Liverpool, was described as a “young man caught up in something”.
He was given a 12-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay £300 costs and a £15 surcharge.
Whitney, 30, of Nottingham, who was not present at the hearing, was given a 12-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay £300 costs and a £15 surcharge.
Seal, 30, of London, was tried in his absence and a warrant for his arrest has been issued.
Katie Brown, 34, and Luke Evans, 34, from Liverpool, Camille Herreman, 26, of Nottingham, Kim Turner, 57, of Brighton, and Phillip Cawkwell, 52, of Ascot, were all cleared of wilfully obstructing the public highway.
Mrs Turner said that the verdict had vindicated the action they had taken.
She said: “We had an almost moral responsibility to protest against fracking – a dangerous and dirty industry.”
- We would like to point out that a photograph accompanying the story when it was first published online may have had a misleading caption. The photograph showed two people who were found guilty of wilfully obstructing a public highway, Barry Slipper and James Jones, and two people who were cleared of the charge, Kim Turner and Katie Brown. All four defendants pictured were also found not guilty of a breach of a public order. The story has always been an accurate account of the court proceedings, however our original photo caption may have been misleading as it referred to the four people in the trial who were found guilty of wilfully obstructing a public highway and not specifically to the four defendants in the photo. We have since ammended the photo caption and are happy to make this clarification.