Green MP Caroline Lucas wanted to send a clear message to the Government that fracking "was not needed or wanted" when she was arrested during protests last summer, a court has heard.
Footage taken during demonstrations outside energy firm Cuadrilla's exploratory oil drilling site on the outskirts of Balcombe, West Sussex, on August 19 last year showed the Brighton Pavilion MP being asked to move away from an emergency access entrance where she was sitting with other protesters, or risk being arrested.
But the 53-year-old did not move because she wanted to show solidarity to the other protesters, the trial at Brighton Magistrates' Court heard. An officer was heard asking her if there he was anything he could do which would make her move before she was arrested.
Lucas, from Brighton, is charged with wilful obstruction of the highway and breaching Section 14 of the Public Order Act. Before the trial started, around 100 supporters gathered outside and cheered as Lucas and the four defendants who are facing trial alongside her walked up to the court building together.
They stopped briefly outside for one of the defendants, Sheila Menon, to read a statement on their behalf. She thanked the people that had gathered outside for their support and claimed that Balcombe was just the start of a major struggle over the search and exploitation of fossil fuels and that the "stakes could not be higher".
Hydraulic fracturing - or fracking - involves pumping water and chemicals deep into the ground at high pressure to fracture shale rock and release gas. Opponents to the method have voiced fears that it could harm water resources, the surrounding environment and cause small earthquakes.
Prosecutor Jonathan Edwards told the court a large camp had been formed around the entrance to the drilling site and that the sheer number of protesters meant extra police officers were drafted in. Conditions were imposed under section 14 of the Public Order Act from August 16 to 21 which was deemed necessary by police so that the demonstrators had a designated area to protest without blocking access to the site, he said.
But on August 19, a crowd of 300 demonstrators gathered outside the site meaning the B2036 London Road had to be closed, the court heard. Mr Edwards said: "Some demonstrators had chosen to sit down in the entrance to the site and thereby were blocking access to it. Some linked arms, others locked on."
The court was told that a loud hailer was used to read out the section 14 order to protesters and officers then entered the crowd to explain what was required. Copies of the order were also given to demonstrators and police DVD footage showed Lucas with the order in her lap.
During police interview, the MP said that when she sat down at 10.30am that day there was no indication of a designated area for protesters. She also said she had wanted to send a clear message to the Government that fracking was not needed or wanted and that she did not believe she was blocking anyone trying to gain access as no drilling was taking place that day.
She said she had scanned the section 14 notice when it fell into her lap and understood the gist of it but did not move because she wanted to show solidarity to the other protesters, the court heard. Sussex Police Temporary Chief Constable Giles York, who was Deputy Chief Constable during last year's protests, told the court the section 14 order had been put in place because the force had received intelligence that climate camp No Dash For Gas would be coming to Balcombe rather than Nottingham, and they were expecting 1,500 to 2,000 people to turn up.
He said the purpose of a section 14 order was to facilitate lawful and meaningful protest, while balancing it against the needs of the people trying to work at the site. Mr York said he reasonably believed that a public assembly could result in public disorder, a risk to public safety, serious damage to property, serious disruption or intimidation.
The court heard Mr York had made a correction to the draft order to bring clarity around the reasons why access was needed to the south of the site, the entrance on London Road. He told the hearing that he had looked at another route via a sawmill as an alternative but was told it was not an option.
Mr York said: "Trying to manage large crowds is very difficult. It's not merely a case of saying 'can you clear the entrance please'." The other defendants, Josef Dobraszczyk, 22, from Bristol, Ruth Jarman, 50, from Hook, Hampshire, Sheila Menon, 42, from north east London, and Ruth Potts, 39, from Totnes, Devon, are also charged with wilful obstruction of the highway and breaching Section 14 of the Public Order Act.
All five defendants deny the charges and will argue that the section 14 notice was unnecessary, unreasonable and disproportionate, and that they were unclear or unaware of the conditions imposed, the court has heard. The trial continues.
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