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Upton anti-frackers plead not guilty to eviction day charges

Up to nine activists to face trial at Chester Magistrates Court this October 

Seven of the defendants involved in the anti-fracking case are Jamie Watson, John Thomas Hall, Louise Hammond, Richard Cairns, Isabelle Bish, Richard Burcumshaw and Cllr Matt Bryan outside Chester Magistrates Court

Anti-fracking activists will face a trial in October for various offences allegedly committed on the day a protest camp was evicted from Upton.

District Judge Michael Abelson entered not guilty pleas for eight defendants who appeared at Chester magistrates today (Wednesday, February 24) charged with matters ranging from obstructing an enforcement officer up to assaulting a constable.

Councillor: 'I'm innocent'

Labour councillor Matt Bryan, who represents Upton on Cheshire West and Chester Council, is among the accused but protests his innocence in relation to a charge of obstructing/resisting a constable in the execution of their duty.

He is believed to have been apprehended after allegedly climbing on top of a cherry picker about to be used as part of the January 12 clearance operation carried out by bailiffs at Duttons Lane supported by police.

Cllr Bryan, 29, of Kings Crescent West, Chester, spoke to The Chronicle and ITV Granada News before the hearing.

He insisted the wider anti-fracking campaign continues even though energy firm IGas abandoned plans for a coal bed methane test drill at the Upton site just three weeks after the eviction.

The protest camp, established in April 2014, had been on the land earmarked for the drill.

One defendant, John Thomas Hall, 50, of no fixed abode, expressed his incredulity about why he was even in court given the IGas decision to pull out shortly after the eviction.

One unidentified protester gets bundled off the Upton anti-fracking camp during the eviction by bailiffs prior to being arrested by police.

And he was annoyed bail conditions included not entering certain roads in Upton - designed to prevent more demonstrations - given IGas had abandoned the site.

Charged with obstructing a constable, he said: “The reason the bail conditions were set was because IGas were going on that field. Well, they have now pulled out, which is an absolute disgrace. We should not be sat here.”

David Holmes The ambulance service at Duttons Lane camp
The scene outside the Upton anti-fracking camp on the day of eviction (January 12, 2016)

A police officer argued in court such conditions were necessary as the farmer who had leased the land to IGas had been subjected to vandalism in December and January.

But the judge agreed to release everyone on unconditional bail saying there was no evidence to link the defendants to those acts.

The one-week trial is expected to start in front of Judge Abelson at the city magistrates court in the week beginning October 17 with video evidence due to play a crucial role for both prosecution and defence.

Seven of the defendants involved in the anti-fracking case together with supporters outside Chester Magistrates Court

Other defendants are: Isabelle Amelia Bish, 28, of Hambledon Road, Denmead, Hampshire, charged with resisting/obstructing an enforcement officer; Lanner Davis, 23, of no fixed abode, charged with resisting/obstructing an enforcement officer; Richard Edward Cairns, 41, of no fixed abode, charged with failing to comply with a section 35 direction excluding a person from an area; Jamie Douglas Watson, 33, of Belmont Avenue, Ayr, charged with resisting/obstructing an enforcement officer; Louise Hammond, 52, of Cedar Avenue, Scunthorpe, charged with resisting/obstructing an enforcement officer and Richard Burcumshaw, 64, of Oxford Grove, Bolton, charged with assaulting a constable in the execution of his/her duty and section 5 public order.

Simon Stafford-Smith, 37, alleged to have committed an unspecified offence on a different date to his co-accused, did not turn up and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

Anti-fracking campaigners turn up outside Chester Magistrates Court to support those accused of offences on the day Upton camp was evicted

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