Nothing said in Westminster as the right to protest is declared void by a commercial judge in Manchester. If ever the reason for Brexit was in doubt, here is the evidence that proves we need to be rid of Brussels. Parliament has collapsed. It is no longer functioning. Single judges sitting in obscure courts have more power than 650 MPs. It’s time to bring back democracy proper.
Breaking: Judge grants Cuadrilla injunction over Lancs fracking site to 2020
A High Court judge has granted Cuadrilla its injunction against specific anti-fracking protests around its shale gas site near Blackpool.
The injunction outlaws direct actions including trespass, slow walking, lock-ons, obstruction of the highway and lorry surfing at and near the Preston New Road site
It also prohibits interference of named companies that supply the site.
The injunction replaces an earlier order against trespass at Preston New Road and will last until 1 June 2020.
Judge Mark Pelling QC said of the injunction was needed because people who had previously protested at Preston New Road had moved to other shale gas sites.
“This suggests that without the order in place, such people would return to the PNR site and resume the unlawful activity that gave rise to the application in the first place.”
He said of the order:
“[it] strikes the correct balance between the rights of the company and the protesters because protesters have been able to protest including gathering on the highway and, gathering in the bellmouth for public meetings, albeit for limited period.”
“The claimants [Cuadrilla[ fear that without the protection of the order sought there would be an upsurge in protest activity in September 2018 when fracking is due to commence and thereafter with flow testing of gas commences
“These fears are well founded.”
Judge Pelling rejected arguments made at a hearing yesterday by two anti-fracking campaigners that there was no imminent threat and that action over unlawful acts should be left to the police. He also rejected their concerns that the injunction was against “persons unknown” or that it also applied to members of Cuadrilla’s supply chain.
He made small changes to the wording of the order.
At yesterday’s hearings, the campaigners also argued that Cuadrilla’s evidence was inaccurate and exaggerated. They also said the injunction breached human rights and was already having a chilling effect on the behaviour of people opposed to shale gas developments.
One of the campaigners, Bob Dennett, accused Cuadrilla of manipulating evidence to make it appear that a temporary injunction issued on 1 June 2018 appeared to have worked. He also described some of Cuadrilla’s statements about protester activity as “largely just allegations, conjecture, exaggeration, hearsay and rumour and, in some instances, outright lies.”
Ian Crane, the other challenger, described the injunction as an abuse of process that undermined democracy. He said:
“If granted it takes the regulation of freedom of expression and association into a whole new area with severe wide-ranging restrictions.
“If there is to be no opportunity to express concern, beyond standing on the side of street waving a banner without the penalty of losing assets or liberty, this should be put before parliament. It should not be put before a civil court.”
Yesterday, Tom Roscoe, for Cuadrilla, described the injunction as a:
“just and convenient and a proportionate interference with the protestors’ human rights.”
He said the temporary injunction had resulted in “no diminution of the ability of peaceful law-abiding protesters to assemble outside the Preston New Road site”.
But he said without the injunction
“protesters will seek to disrupt, delay or prevent the attainment of those milestones by the same sorts of unlawful acts which have been deployed in the past.”
Cuadrilla did not seek costs against Mr Crane and Mr Dennett. They did not seek to take the injunction to trial. But anyone could do this at any time between now and 2020.
BY ON • ( 22 COMMENTS )
Judge Mark Pelling QC will give his ruling this afternoon (Weds) … will he uphold the democratic principles enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights … or will he confirm that the UK is in the grip of a Corporatist Totalitarian dictatorship, where Parliamentary democracy is subjugated to the Commercial Courts?
Cuadrilla injunction evidence based on “allegations, conjecture, exaggeration and hearsay”, court told
The shale gas company, Cuadrilla, was accused at the High Court today of trying to “demonise” anti-fracking protester to support its case for an injunction.
Campaigner, Bob Dennett, told a hearing in Manchester that evidence from one of the company’s witnesses was:
“largely just allegations, conjecture, exaggeration, hearsay and rumour and, in some instances, outright lies.”
Mr Dennett, along with Ian Crane, were challenging the injunction against a range of protest tactics, including slow walking, obstructing the highway, lorry surfing and lock-ons.
Cuadrilla said a temporary injunction, granted by Judge Mark Pelling QC on 1 June 2018, did not prevent lawful peaceful protest at the Preston New Road shale gas site.
But the two challengers said the order was already having a chilling effect on protest and breached human rights to freedom of expression and assembly.
Cuadrilla is seeking to continue the injunction until June 2020.
Earlier in the summer, the company said it faced “an imminent threat” from Block Around the Clock, a three-day protest promoted by the campaign group, Reclaim the Power.
Tom Roscoe, for the company, said today:
“The end of that campaign does not mean that the imminent threat of unlawful conduct has ended.”
There were many key future milestones in work at Preston New Road, including the start of fracking, he said.
[Without the injunction] “protesters will seek to disrupt, delay or prevent the attainment of those milestones by the same sorts of unlawful acts which have been deployed in the past.”
Judge Pelling is expected to give his ruling after 2pm tomorrow (Wednesday 11 July 2018).
Challenge to evidence
During today’s hearing, Cuadrilla showed montages of short video clips of protests at and near Preston New Road.
Mr Dennett, who represented himself, said the clips were “selective”, “out of context” and “edited to support the company’s case”.
One 20-second extract related to a vehicle windscreen being smashed. A protester was said to have allegedly used a chain wrapped round his fist and was later convicted of criminal damage. But Mr Dennett said new video evidence showed that the chain was being held by a security guard and the protester’s lawyers were now seeking to overturn the conviction. Mr Dennett said:
“If you see the full video, the protester did not break that windscreen. He didn’t have the chain in his hand.”
Referring to another videoed incident, a Cuadrilla witness statement said protesters refused to let farmworkers enter the premises of the owner of the fracking site and made false allegations that the workers drove at them. Mr Dennett said he was at that protest, which had been facilitated by police. He said he witnessed a woman protester knocked to the ground after she was hit by a 4×4.
In total, Mr Dennett reviewed more than 20 statements used by Cuadrilla in support of the injunction. Many were in witness statements by the company’s Head of Business Resilience, James Dobson.
The court heard that Mr Dobson said Cuadrilla, its employees, contractors and suppliers had been subjected to “daily acts” of direct action protest. This was an exaggeration, Mr Dennett said.
Mr Dennett said it was also an exaggeration, if not untrue, for Mr Dobson to say that incidents were sometimes violent. Mr Dennett quoted police evidence that protesters shouted and swore at times but had not been violent.
Mr Dennett urged the court to dismiss Mr Dobson’s statement that two known anti-fracking protesters had been identified outside the depot where a rig belonging to Cuadrilla had been seriously vandalised. The statement acknowledged that the police had insufficient evidence to secure a successful prosecution. Mr Dennett said there was no evidence that the protesters entered the premises.
He also said there was no evidence to support a letter from the local Chamber of Commerce that small companies were going out of business because of the protests.
Judge Pelling asked him:
“Why would the Chamber of Commerce seek to mislead me? They are reporting what they have been told”.
Mr Dennett replied:
“They are not seeking to mislead. I am saying there is no evidence that I am aware of.”
The judge pointed to letters from companies supporting Cuadrilla’s case.
Mr Dennett said many businesses had supported the protests and some had resigned from the Chamber of Commerce over its backing for the fracking industry.
Cuadrilla had also quoted a newspaper article which accused anti-fracking campaigners of making unnecessary 999 ambulance calls. Mr Dennett said:
“None of these calls were malicious.”
He said he made one call when his son was injured by a police officer and then refused hospital treatment.
“The claimant has picked up on this and tried to use it as evidence for their injunction to demonise the protesters.”
Cuadrilla argued that the June 2018 injunction order had been successful because the number of police officers attending the Preston New Road protests had fallen and there had been no arrests.
Tom Roscoe, for the company, said:
“There has been no trespass to the PNR land, no obstruction of personnel or vehicle movements to and from the PNR site and no unlawful interference with its supply chain.”
He said what he called the “good order” at the site had allowed the police to reduce the number of officers by about 50%.
“From the perspective of peaceful, law-abiding protesters there has been no diminution in their ability to assemble outside the PNR site and have their voices heard there.
“The six week period of calm, peaceful and lawful protest is in marked contrast to the previous experience.
“The claimants are optimistic that a continuation of the injunction will lead to a continuance of this state of affairs, which balances protesters’ rights and concerns with the claimants’ own rights and interests.”
Mr Dennett said evidence showed that police numbers had begun to fall in March 2018, before the injunction. He said:
“All the [protest] actions planned for June were carried out, including Block Around the Clock.
“It is my contention that there were no arrests in June because the claimants [Cuadrilla] did not put themselves in a position where actions planned for June would cause them disruption.”
He added that there had also been no arrests in December 2017.
Cuadrilla said the injunction was not restricting protest because there had been increased numbers at a regular Wednesday Women in White protest. Mr Dennett said the numbers at this protest had increased because it was specifically excluded from the injunction. People were unwilling to take part in other protests because they were unsure whether they would be affected by the injunction, he said.
“Injunction should be dismissed”
The other challenger, Ian Crane, also representing himself, said:
“Cuadrilla is seeking unprecedented wide-ranging relief covering an exhaustive list of ‘offences’ and alleged ‘unlawful acts’.
“If granted it takes the regulation of freedom of expression and association into a whole new area with severe wide-ranging restrictions”.
He said Cuadrilla’s application was misplaced and should be dismissed.
“There has been no attempt to qq an analysis of actual loss or damage. The imminent threat of Reclaim the Power’s [June 2018] protest has passed. Right now there is no direct or perceived threat to Preston New Road.
“On the basis of the past 12 months, we have not seen an excessive amount of activity that requires injunctive relief.”
Mr Crane said the injunction undermined what he said was the basis of democracy. People protested to raise awareness of the negative impacts of fracking, he said.
“If there is to be no opportunity to express concern, beyond standing on the side of street waving a banner without the penalty of losing assets or liberty, this should be put before parliament. It should not be put before a civil court.
“It is an abuse of process using limited evidence based primarily on social media, newspaper articles and conjecture.”
He added that the ruling in this case would become a precedent as the shale gas industry proceeded elsewhere in the country. Mr Roscoe urged the court to dismiss much of Mr Crane’s evidence.
The case was adjourned until 2pm tomorrow (Wednesday 11 July).
- Judge Pelling refused to admit as evidence a letter from Friends of the Earth. Two campaigners who had previously been part of the case did not give evidence because they could not raise enough money to be represented.
Reporting on this case was made possible by donations from individual DrillOrDrop readers.