The Frack-Free Three - Katrina Lawrie, Christopher Wilson, and Lee Walsh, protestors from the Frack-Free Lancashire campaign - were back in court for sentencing on Tuesday in a case centred round the right to protest.
All three had locked themselves together in July to delay access to the fracking site in Lancashire run by the company Cuadrilla. Ms Lawrie had also stepped out into the road to stop a lorry in August and, because of the wet roads, the lorry allegedly had to swerve into the path of oncoming traffic. No-one was hurt in the incident.
At a previous hearing, the campaigners had admitted breaching an order related to protests outside the site. They had been found not guilty of any criminal offences so today’s hearing was only about the breach of civil law.
The three were supported outside the court by comrades from a wide variety of environmental and community groups. Yesterday (Monday), people from the nearby Extinction Rebellion occupation in Deansgate marched to the court led by a samba band. A spokesperson said: “We made a democratic decision yesterday to start our march with a show of solidarity with the anti-frackers because they too are fighting big companies that make money without regard to the damage they are doing to our planet.”
A RAPAR spokesperson said fracking was destroying homes and communities around the world and will cause widespread disruption and displacement of people if it is allowed to continue.
“The number of ‘environmental refugees’ is rapidly increasing due to the activities of large companies and multinationals. RAPAR backs all activists protesting against companies like Cuadrilla. We also support the right to protest without the threat of arrest and imprisonment.”
In court, Adam Wagner, on behalf of Ms Lawrie and Mr Walsh, told the judge, Mr JHH Pelling, that his clients had been protesting against the controversial practice of fracking which contributes to global warming. He compared the protests with others, such as Peterloo and the campaign for women’s suffrage.
The latest earthquake at the Cuadrilla fracking site is said to have shaken houses five miles away.
Mr Wagner said all forms of peaceful protest are protected under the European Convention on Human Rights. The case involved a large company using its substantial financial resources to prevent protests by seeking an injunction. Fear of such wide ranging orders could have a “chilling effect” on the right to protest.
Tom Roscoe, for Cuadrilla, spoke of the need to protect his client’s right to access the site. He saw no need for protestors to be walking on the carriageway when there is a footway alongside but the judge pointed out that the court could not insist that people use the pavement.
The judge ruled in favour of some variations to the court order so the new order will allow protestors to walk in the road for the purpose of protest, but not when it is deliberately being done to delay the Cuadrilla lorries.
He sentenced all three to four weeks imprisonment, suspended for two years, on condition that they comply with the amended order. Ms Lawrie also received a two month suspended sentence for the separate incident in August.
The protestors were ordered to pay costs. These were later estimated as approximately £70k. The three people do not have the money to pay but anti fracking campaigners said afterwards that the possibility of protestors having costs awarded against them may well deter homeowners and people with other assets from taking part in future peaceful protests.