Lancashire anti-fracking campaigners lose their appeal against contempt of court ruling

Three anti-fracking campaigners who broke a court injunction on protests at a Lancashire drill site have failed to get their contempt of court sentences overturned.

Tuesday, 28th January 2020, 5:05 pm
Updated Tuesday, 28th January 2020, 5:07 pm

Katrina Lawrie, Christopher Wilson and Lee Walsh who had taken part in a lock-on protest at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road fracking site in July 2018, had appealed against the ruling saying that the injunction was order was not clear enough and their suspended jail terms were too harsh.

It was the first UK contempt of court case for breaching an anti-protest injunction.

Cuadrilla was granted an injunction after months of protest by people concerned that fracking would lead to pollution and disruption to residents. Protests often consisted of people locking themselves together at the entrance of the site with arms or legs in sealed tubes to make it difficult for the police to take them away.

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Cuadrilla's fracking equipment at Preston New Road
Cuadrilla's fracking equipment at Preston New Road

The police often had to close at least one side of the busy A583 to deal with the protests.

A London judge dismissed their appeal, but gave them leave to make a future appeal against having to pay Cuadrilla’s legal costs, set to be tens of thousands of pounds.

But lawyers for the three, Robert Lizar Solicitors, said the judge conceded a difference between people being in contempt of court for genuine protest and ordinary law breakers.

They also welcomed the judge’s decision to reduce Lawrie’s sentence as well as the finding that a High Court Judge had failed to apply human rights law properly before sentencing the activists last year.

A typical anti-fracking protest at the Preston New Road site where three people who locked themselves together to block the entrance in a separate protest were later taken to court for breaching an injunction

A Robert Lizar spokesman said: “Importantly, the Court also gave detailed guidance on the appropriate sanctions in political protest cases, stating in the clearest terms in a UK court judgment to date that “greater clemency” should be shown in cases of non-violent civil disobedience.”

Walsh and Wilson had their four week suspended jail terms upheld, while Lawrie succeeding in having her two-month sentence, which was also suspended for two years, reduced to four weeks.

Speaking after the result a Cuadrilla spokesman said: "Cuadrilla’s position on this case and such protests remains unchanged.

"We have no objection to peaceful, law-abiding protest and have worked alongside Lancashire Police to facilitate this. However, actions of this type do not recognise that our neighbours, motorists using the busy road and our staff and suppliers have a right to go about their business without disruption, inconvenience or intimidation.

"In this case, these actions were dangerous, disruptive and unlawful and we support the Court of Appeal’s decision to rule as such."