(The Guardian) Three anti-fracking activists have been given suspended prison sentences after breaking a ban on demonstrations which their lawyers argued “severely curtails the right to protest”.
The trio were convicted after ignoring an injunction brought by the energy company Cuadrilla to protect its Preston New Road site near Blackpool, Lancashire.
A week earlier Cuadrilla had to halt fracking at the shale gas site after triggering what is believed to be the biggest fracking-related tremor seen in Britain.
Christopher Wilson, 55, and Lee Walsh, 44, were both given four-week sentences suspended for two years after being found in contempt of court for breaching the injunction. Katrina Lawrie, 41, received an additional two months suspended for two years.
Friends of the Earth said the sentences were “disproportionate and harsh”. Last year three protesters jailed for their part in a much longer fracking protest ended up having their sentences reduced to conditional dischargeson appeal – much lighter sentences – after judges ruled their jailing “manifestly excessive”.
The latest three campaigners were found guilty three months ago of breaching the injunction during protests outside the site in Lancashire. On 24 July 2018, they and others had blocked the entrance for around three hours, Judge Mark Pelling told Manchester high court on Tuesday.
Lawrie was given a longer suspended sentence because she had also stood in front of a delivery lorry on two other occasions, which the judge said caused “a serious risk of death or injury” to the driver. Lawrie had not apologised or given reassurances that it would not happen again, he noted.
The judge, who granted Cuadrilla the injunction in the first place, refused permission to appeal against the decision as he saw “no reasonable grounds or compelling reason to do so”. He also awarded Cuadrilla’s costs against the protesters.
Adam Wagner, who represented Lawrie and Walsh, told the court the case “concerns fundamentally important issues of law relating to the rights of free expression and assembly as protected by the Human Rights Act. At issue is an order which severely curtails the right to protest against fracking at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road fracking site.”
He added: “It is not my clients who are the real danger here. It is Cuadrilla.”
Afterwards, Wilson vowed to continue to protest against fracking.
“It’s an absolute obscenity that a corporation can put private profit over the health and wellbeing of people – my kids and everybody else’s,” he said. “Their ‘might is right’ approach has been used to override our human rights and criminalise our protest. We’ve seen enough evidence that their activity – which Lancashire did not want – endangers everyone living there. The fight goes on.”
Katie de Kauwe, a lawyer with Friends of the Earth, said: “We are disappointed with the severity of the sentences that have been handed down. We think they are disproportionate and hard and don’t accord with the tradition in English law of treating peaceful protesters motivated by good faith and beliefs with some leniency in sentencing.”
The next step for the campaigners will be to seek permission from the court of appeal to challenge the terms of the injunction.