Anti-fracker not guilty of obstruction

John Tootill of Maple Farm

A 63-year-old horticulturalist has been cleared of obstructing police at the Preston New Road fracking site.

John Tootill, 63, who runs Maple Farm Nursery on Preston New Road, near the Cuadrilla site was accused of obstructing an officer on June 1.

Neil White, prosecuting, said Tootill was seen in video footage wearing a white sunhat and carrying a placard during a protest.

He said he became angry when he was asked to leave.

The prosecution allege that Tootill grabbed a police officer’s legs when he tripped.

Tootill told the court he had spent at least 200 days protesting and had allowed his business Maple Leaf Nursery to become a focal point for the campaign.

He claimed he had often acted to calm people down during moments of conflict.

Tootill, of Moss House Lane, Westby, was acquitted of obstructing a police inspector during a protest on June 1 this year outside the gas exploration site being run by Cuardrilla close to his business.

Tootill said he had been standing on the central “hatched” area of the road carrying an anti-fracking placard.

He said he was suddenly pushed from behind without warning across one lane of the road.

“It was a concerted push. I did not even know it was a police officer,” he said.

“In seconds I was face down in a hedgerow next to the pavement. I am not a man of violence and I do not swear. I attend the protests and am often called on to inrtercede in difficult situations - to try to defuse them.

“The police know me and I know that on both sides both the anti-frackers and the police there have been volatile moments.”

“I feel I am respected for what I do by both sides. I have never lost my temper during 200 days attending the protests.

“I respect the police but there have been times when officers have lost their cool and I see this as an abuse of their power. On this occasion I was barged across the road by a man I now know to be a police inspector.

“The breath was knocked out of me and I was concerned for my own safety because I was on the ground. I did put one arm around his leg.”

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