Balcombe trial ends in not guilty verdicts.
There were cheers and shouts of thank you from the packed public gallery of Brighton Magistrates Court this afternoon (9/1/14) as the first group of anti-fracking campaigners arrested at the Balcombe protest last summer were found not guilty of all charges.
Eleven protestors* had been charged with obstructing the highway on July 26th by sitting on or near a log near the entrance to Cuadrilla’s oil exploration site. One of the eleven was also charged with assaulting a police officer by spilling tea over her arm. All the defendants had denied the charges.
Giving his verdict at the end of the three-day trial, District Judge William Ashworth said the case focussed on the limits of freedom of speech. He said for a protest to be reasonable under the law, it had to be non-violent and could not obstruct the highway.
He said in this case there had been an obstruction and it had been deliberate. Deliveries to the Cuadrilla drilling site had been held up. But, the judge said, the road had been partially closed for road surfacing on the day of the protest and the obstruction was just off the road, in the site entrance.
District Judge Ashworth described the protest as dignified. He said: “I am also satisfied that a large number of you considered this was not the highway and did not see there was a problem. I accept that there were people walking in the road and children playing. There was a police presence but you were not asked by Cuadrilla or the police to get off the log before midday.”
The judge said: “Because of the movement of the log, it [the protest] was probably not reasonable”. But he said he was not sure. “My duty is quite clear. I am required to acquit you all.”
On the assault charge, the judge said he was satisfied the spillage of tea over PC Charlotte Pittman was not done recklessly and had been an accident.
This is the second court success for the Balcombe anti-fracking campaigners. In November the prosecution asked for the charge to be discontinued half way through a trial of a woman campaigner after District Judge Peter Crabtree questioned whether an offence had been committed. About 25 further trials arising out of the Balcombe protests are due to be heard between now and April, including that of the Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas.
Balcombe resident, Louisa Delpy, gave evidence as a witness. She said she visited the protest that day and that police had reassured her that they would protect her and her two young children. She also described a sudden change of atmosphere. She said she saw police manhandling people off the log, She said the police were hurting Mr Millar. “My son said ‘they are hurting him’. My son was traumatised by it for a long time afterwards.”
The judge's summing up of his verdict, reported by a court attendee -
1) Did anyone really tell the truth about being a deliberate obstruction? Answer,,, No
2) Was it done as an act of defiance against Cuadrilla? Answer ,,, Yes
3) Was it a step too far in the protesting? ,, maybe
4) The police's memories were not very good
5) Was the log really on the main road?,,, No
6) Can i be sure that the case was proved"? No
An after-court comment by one of the protectors about the man cleared of assault by throwing tea which shows the foolishness and arrogance of the police and their cowardice in not standing by their actions after they have put innocent people through months of worry, is the anxiety caused to protestors more important to them than making lawful and valid arrests?
It was a disgrace that Michael was treated that way, the tea was spilled as the officer manhandled him, he warned her that he had tea in his hand and then conveniently she was didn't turn up in court to testify.