Activists hailed a victory for freedom of protest after being acquitted of obstructing a highway.

The anti-fracking protesters were prosecuted after passively blockading the gates to drilling firm Cuadrilla in Balcombe.

But all charges against the ten defendants were dismissed yesterday after a three-day trial.


They were arrested on July 26 amid a summer of protests against the drilling firm, which was testdrilling for oil and gas at the rural site.

Scores were arrested, including Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas, during a police operation costing £4 million.

Paul Deacon, 50, formerly of Selden Lane, Worthing; Samantha Duncan, 30, of Beaconsfield Villas, Brighton; Ian Freeston, 52, of Phoenix Place, Lewes; Ezra Lynch, 31, of Phoenix Place, Lewes; Mark Mansbridge, 51, of Paddock Road, Lewes; Richard Millar, 30, of Upper Gloucester Road, Brighton; Michael Atkins, 37, of Westbury; Frances Crack, 31, of Cardiff; Justin Preese, 44, of Pontypridd and Nancy Walker, 25, of London, were all cleared of obstructing the highway.

Mr Atkins was also cleared of assaulting a police constable by throwing tea at her.

Supporters cheered at BrightonMagistrates’ Court as District Judge William Ashworth delivered the verdicts.

Defence lawyers disputed an obstruction took place as the B2036 London Road at Balcombe was closed to traffic at the time.

The court heard how police used pressure point techniques against protesters, who had linked arms and were sitting on and around a large log.

The judge praised the protesters’ good character and said they had acted reasonably and with dignity.

Speaking outside court Mr Freeston said: “The gist of it was, were we unreasonable? Did we go over the top with our freedom to protest? The judge said we surfed very close to unreasonableness but he sided with us. We’re an interesting bunch of committed citizens and I think he saw that.”

Mr Millar added: “The judge accepted trucks were held up and we caused an obstruction but he said it wasn’t unreasonable. I hope other judges follow this lead and see we do have a right to protest.”