Fylde fracking signs businessman tells of court case hell

BLACKPOOL  26-04-16
John Tootill outside his home which has been destroyed after a fire, thought to have started in the roof, at Maple Farm Nursery Gardens, Westby.
BLACKPOOL 26-04-16 John Tootill outside his home which has been destroyed after a fire, thought to have started in the roof, at Maple Farm Nursery Gardens, Westby.
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The man who faced potential bankruptcy after being taken to court by Fylde Borough Council has today spoken of his mixed feelings after the case was dropped.

And anti-fracking campaigners have called on the council to issue a full explanation of the whole affair.

John Tootill, who owns the Maple Farm Nursery at Westby, was being prosecuted on 26 charges of displaying unauthorised advertisements on his premises.

The notices carried various anti-fracking messages as his business lies close to the proposed Cuadrilla fracking site off Preston New Road.

But following a fire last month which destroyed his home, the council dropped the charges saying it was not in the public interest to continue the prosecution.

Today, Mr Tootill said: “I have mixed feelings about this. I would much rather that the judge had thrown this case out. I was fighting it on the grounds it was an abuse of process by the council.

“The councillors had acted like children having a tantrum. It was vindictive.

“These were not advertisements, they were signs which had no profit to me. They are designed to warn people about fracking, so are for the benefit of the wider community.

“I have had this for two years. It could have bankrupted me. The council spared no thoughts about what this case has done to me, the stress, worry and cost.

“My health has suffered, my business has suffered and it has cost me in the time I have had to spend away from my family.”

A Fylde Council spokesman said: ‘Because of the devastating fire at Mr Tootill’s home, we no longer feel that it is in the public interest to continue the case.

“We had been in the process of considering the detailed legal arguments raised by Mr Tootill’s representatives, but this was overtaken when news of the fire came through.

“Obviously this will be a difficult time for Mr Tootill and we would not wish to add to those difficulties.”

The court action had drawn criticism from Fylde anti-fracking campaigners.

A spokesman for the Preston New Road Action Group said: “Preston New Road Action Group is over the moon on John Tootill’s behalf that he is being spared the threat of prosecution on top of his personal tragedy this week, when he lost his home and priceless personal belongings.

“This is brilliant for John, and a humiliating climbdown for Fylde Borough Council.

“But we are also confused.

“If Fylde’s action was indeed in the public interest, nothing has changed. We want to see the reasons they have withdrawn their action.

“We want to know how this decision was taken. We want to know how the original decision to prosecute was taken.

“We want to know in particular what part Trevor Fiddler, as a councillor who had a financial involvement with Cuadrilla, and chairman of the development control committee, played in approving the action. This remains a scandal of the highest order. John Tootill was in our view persecuted and victimised for political reasons. At the least we need a full public statement to explain FBC’s actions.”

The Gazette has asked Coun Fiddler for a response.