Balcombe fracking campaigners cleared over obstruction

Environmental campaigners celebrate as the first group of protestors charged during fracking protests in the summer are acquitted

The first group of anti-fracking protesters charged during last summer’s demonstrations in Balcombe, Sussex have been acquitted of obstructing the entrance to a site set up by oil and gas exploration company Cuadrilla Resources.

Representing the 11 protesters, Kelly’s solicitors in Brighton confirmed their clients were cleared at Brighton Magistrate’s Court yesterday, following a three-day trial.

The 11 protesters had been charged with pulling a log across the entrance to Cuadrilla’s exploration site in the Sussex countryside and obstructing the highway. One of them, Michael Atkins, from Wiltshire, had been accused of assaulting a police officer by throwing hot tea at her. He was also cleared of this.

Those acquitted yesterday were among a group of 120 protesters – including Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion – who were arrested on the site last July.

Those against fracking for shale gas, otherwise known as hydraulic fracturing, believe it destroys land, causes water contamination, worsens climate change, can trigger earthquakes and can lead to severe health effects in people and animals. Gas companies and government ministers have dismissed safety and environmental concerns, arguing that fracking is an important part of meeting Britain’s energy needs.

Richard Millar, 30, one of the group cleared yesterday said he was surprised and incredibly happy to be acquitted.

“Technically we were obstructing the road, but the judge found that our behaviour wasn’t unreasonable,” he told Positive News. “From my knowledge of following protest cases, it is extremely unusual for a judge to make such a decision and I just hope the others are treated consistently. It was a stressful three days but we are incredibly happy.”

Ari Weber from the campaign group Frack Off said: “It’s highly unlikely a precedent has been set – but it’s definitely a boost for all those who are awaiting trial and also all those who are right now putting their liberty on the line in Barton Moss, Salford [a proposed fracking site].”

She added: “The fracking blockades at Balcombe, and now Barton Moss, near Manchester, are testament to the level of anger and fear surrounding these developments. There are now more than 70 community groups resisting fracking projects nationwide.

“The industry is losing,” Weber claimed. “Each new well is met with months of blockading and millions in policing costs.

“The scale of the government’s sell-off means that roughly 60% of the UK is now available to fracking companies. Huge numbers of people are threatened and as a result communities from all corners of the UK are getting organised.”

Others from the group of 120 protesters are due to be tried in Brighton throughout January.