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Police defend tactics at anti-fracking protest in Balcombe after Caroline Lucas MP criticism
Sussex Police has defended its tactics during the Balcombe protests saying its first priority had always been maintaining public safety.
This comes after the judge in the trial involving Caroline Lucas earlier this week said he was concerned about the way the matter had been dealt with.
In particular district judge Tim Pattinson said that in his view deputy chief constable Giles York was not authorised to make a notice under section 14 during the protest.
A number of protesters, including Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, were arrested at the time for breaching the order.
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In summing up, Mr Pattinson said the notice may only be given by the “most senior in rank of the police officers present at the scene” and while deputy chief constable York had been present at some point, it was not clear that he was present at the scene at the time the Notice was authorised.
He added that he was also not satisfied that Ms Lucas had “the requisite knowledge” that the order - which requires demonstrators to use a designated area away from Cuadrilla's entrance - was even in place.
Mr Pattinson said: “If criminal prosecutions for failure to comply are envisaged, as they must have been in this case, it is imperative that conditions are clear. These conditions are not clear. In short, I have concerns about the notice on the particular facts of this case that I find it to be invalid.”
He also said he had not heard any evidence that an “actual obstruction” of a vehicle or person was caused by the protest.
Superintendent Lawrence Hobbs from Sussex Police, which oversaw the protest, said: “The operation was a difficult balancing act throughout and we have been variously reported as 'caving in' to protestors and accused of 'overkill' in the number of officers deployed.
“Right from the outset, we made it absolutely clear that our priority in this operation was safety - for the general public, local residents, protestors, Cuadrilla employees and our own officers and staff.
“We worked with all sides to enable them all to meet their peaceful and lawful objectives, whether they were day-to-day commercial activities or protest.”
A total of 126 people were arrested outside the Cuadrilla site in Balcombe.
Of those, 90 people were charged with 114 offences and 36 had their cases dropped without charge.
Of the protestors that were charged, 21 had their cases discontinued by police and a further 22 had the case dropped by the CPS.
- Don't miss Monday's Argus for a first person piece from Green MP Caroline Lucas who will talk about her experience during and after the protests
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