Councillors back fracking sign protester

John Tootill near his home in Westby
John Tootill near his home in Westby

Councillors have moved to distance themselves from the prosecution of a man who has placed anti-fracking signs on his land.

John Tootill, from Westby, is facing 26 charges of displaying unauthorised advertisements on land at Maple Farm Nurseries, and is due before Blackpool Magistrates next month.

I think it’s a disgrace we are taking him to court

Coun Heather Speak

But some councillors have questioned why Mr Tootill is being brought to book by Fylde Council.

Mr Tootill’s legal team want the case thrown out and have labelled the decision to prosecute an ‘abuse of process’ by Fylde Council, after it named six councillors as having taken part in the decision to prosecute – despite the fact they have declared an interest in fracking.

But not all of the councillors named took part.

Coun Paul Hayhurst, who had to declare an interest on the Fylde Council decision due to his role on Lancashire County Council’s planning committee, said: “I did not vote. We should not be taking action against him.

“I had to leave the Fylde meeting when they were considering it on the advice of the county solicitor because I’m a member of the county planning committee.

“At the end of the day, I voted against fracking.

“And if I hadn’t declared an interest, I would have spoken up in Mr Tootill’s favour.

“There’s signs all over the place against fracking. I think he’s been treated very badly.”

Mr Tootill has taken his anti-fracking protest to Fylde council in recent weeks,
using the town hall’s pay and display car park to park 
up a van laden with 
anti-fracking slogans at weekends.

Fylde Coun Heather Speak, also named in court as 
having taken part in the 
decision when the case had its first hearing last week 
at Blackpool Magistrates Court, added: “I abstained and did not vote for the prosecution.

“I have anti-fracking signs on my land – why have I not been prosecuted yet Mr Tootill has been?

“I think it’s a disgrace we are taking him to court.”

Mr Tootill, of North West Tree Services, believes it is his ‘moral obligation’ to keep up the battle against drilling firm Cuadrilla, which wants to hydraulically fracture Bowland shale, initially at two sites on the Fylde coast.

The firm says the practice – firing water and chemicals at high pressure at rock deep underground to release gas – can be done safely under the UK’s safety regulations.

But protesters have raised health and environmental concerns over the controversial process.

Mr Tootill previously told The Gazette: “All I want to do is protect my family and my children and my community.

“This is something anybody would do. It is my moral obligation.”

No-one from Fylde Council, bringing the prosecution, was available for comment.