Anti-frackers walk free as prosecutors slammed by judge

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A district judge gave a stinging rebuke to the Crown Prosecution Service over a case involving three anti-fracking protesters.

Judge Jane Goodwin heard how the CPS wanted a last minute change in its evidence.

Prosecutor Neil White said he had been instructed to introduce evidence of a “knock on“ effect by protesters in the entrance to Cuadrilla’s shale gas site on Preston New Road near Blackpool.

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He said that although the protesters may not have been on the highway he said their actions had a consequentional effect of requiring the police to set up a cordon around them affecting the traffic flow.

Nikki Hall, defending two of the accused, said: ”The Crown has been unfair. Had the defence known about this and this case dates back to April we would have prepared our defence in a different manner. We do not believe the authority the Crown is now relying on has any relevance to this case.”

“The Crown is changing the goal posts at the last minute.”

Judge Goodwin, at Blackpool Magistrates, said the CPS was guilty of a “reverse legal ambush“ by bringing in matters on the day of the trial.

She said: “The Crown has a duty to be fair. Criminal proceedings are not game to be played - where they can totally change their case at the last minute. This type of approach is appalling and deplorable.

“What has happened is intrinsincly unfair to the defence.”

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The Crown then offered no evidence against the three defendants who had allegedly staged a “lock-on” protest outside the site in Little Plumpton in April this year.

The trio were Lauren Begley, 22, of no fixed address, Nicholas Grant, 44, of Misson, Nottingham and Ruby Lee, 21, of Bishop Stortford, Herts.

Their travel costs were awarded by the judge on what was the sixth listing of the case.

Lee did not attend the hearing and the judge was told by her lawyer Nikki Hall: “She lives in Holland and travelled to London where she took a coach to get to this hearing. “Unfortunately she fell asleep on the coach and instead of getting off at Preston she woke up in Glasgow.”