Judge's warning to fracking prosecutors

A judge has sent a warning over the future prosecution of anti-fracking protesters after acquitting nine people charged with an offence under the Trade Union acts.

Wednesday, 31st January 2018, 3:55 pm
Updated Wednesday, 31st January 2018, 4:16 pm
The Preston New Road fracking site

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The nine were cleared of hindering people working for gas exploration company Cuadrilla at the firm’s Preston New Road site.

The same nine were, however, convicted of wilfully obstructing the highway – the A583 – on June 9, last year.

Judge Jeff Brailsford

They were each fined £200 and ordered to pay £180 costs by District Judge Jeff Brailsford sitting at Blackpool Magistrates Court.

The court heard how five of the nine had “locked on” at the entrance to the site.

In what the judge called “the ramping up of the type of protest being staged”, the five placed themselves under two vehicles left at the site entrance making it more difficult for police to remove them.

However, when it came to the hindering of Cuadrilla staff, the judge said not enough evidence had been produced to justify the charge.

Judge Jeff Brailsford

He said: “It requires specific evidence and not offering a rag bag of possibles and invite the court to find one that fits.

“I am lost in admiration for the prosecutor’s skill in trying to prove that offence, when the whole of the beliefs on which the case was charged crumbles to dust in his hands.

“It would no doubt be possible, in future cases for the Crown Prosecution Service to could give real thoughts to this.”

Giving his verdict on the highway offence the judge said that traffic had been affected for hours.

“This was a lock-on plus caused by going underneath vehicles .”

He dismissed the claim of one defendant Liz Beck that she had accidentally glued herself to two other protesters.

“To say that is utterly nonsensical and I reject it totally,” said the judge.

The nine defendants were Lee Walsh, 43, of the protest camp Dugdale Close, Blackpool; Mark Taylor, 43, of Maple Farm camp site, Preston New Road; Alan Mitchel, 45, of no fixed address; John Knox, 31, of the Dugdale Close site; Catherine Jackson, 50, of Mowbray Road,Fleetwood; David Eaton, 44, of the Dugdale Close site; Barbara Cookson, 67, of Lawrence Grove,Liverpool; Jonathan Black, 24, of Bognor Regis; Liz Beck, 55, of the Preston New Road camp site.

Black did not attend the hearing and was found guilty of obstructing the highway.