An anti-fracking councillor cleared of obstructing a police officer hailed the outcome of the trial involving a total of eight activists as ‘a victory for the community’.
Cllr Matt Bryan and his co-defendants resisted the eviction of a protest camp at Duttons Lane, Upton , from land earmarked as a test drill site for potential coal-bed methane extraction.
The January 12 operation involved bailiffs supported by about 200 police officers.
Three weeks later energy firm IGas abandoned its plans saying seismic testing had revealed the site did ‘not meet’ the criteria for commercial CBM development.
Just two of the eight protesters on trial at Chester magistrates were this week convicted of minor offences.
Cllr Bryan, 30, of Cambrian Avenue, Vicars Cross , had been accused of obstructing a police officer after climbing on a cherry picker aboard a low loader bound for the site because of his fears the heavy vehicle could collapse tunnels where activists were ‘locked on’.
On being reassured these concerns would be relayed to the police officer in charge of the main site, Cllr Bryan was prepared to descend. A police video showed a difference of opinion between the constable dealing with Cllr Bryan and his superior as to whether he would be allowed to walk free if he got down.
District Judge Michael Abelson sided with Cllr Bryan in concluding he had not caused an obstruction.
Cllr Bryan, who represents Upton on Cheshire West and Chester Council , said afterwards: “Today has been an absolute victory for the community of Upton and the people who were willing to put their liberty on the line to defend it. To say we’ve only got two convictions out of nine is quite telling about the evidence the police had to prosecute.
“As I’ve maintained all along, I was acting very sincerely to prevent the possible danger to life and limb to any human being on the site. It was proven an hour later – when that truck finally managed to get on the field, it sank.”
Jamie Douglas Watson, 34, of Belmont Avenue, Ayr, who was secured to two underground pipes, was found guilty of resisting/obstructing an enforcement officer. Lanner Davis, 24, of no fixed abode, was also convicted of resisting/obstructing an enforcement officer after being secured to another female protester on a tower structure.
Each was given a 12 month conditional discharge and ordered to pay £150 costs.
Richard Burcumshaw, 65, of Oxford Grove, Bolton, faced the most serious charge of assaulting a constable in the execution of his/her duty by pushing. But the judge found him not guilty saying he ‘preferred’ his account to that of the officer.
Judge Abelson found no case to answer against four other defendants.
John Thomas Hall, 51, of George Street, Chester, had been charged with resisting/obstructing a constable but the arresting officer told the court the offence should have been obstructing the highway.
Louise Hammond, 53, of Cedar Avenue, Scunthorpe, had been charged with resisting/obstructing an enforcement officer but it was unclear whether the area in which she had been ‘locked on’ was covered by the High Court writ.
Trky Edward Cairns, 42, of Borras Community Camp, Borras, Wrexham, and Simon John Stafford-Smith, 38, of no fixed abode, were both cleared of failing to comply with a section 35 direction excluding a person from a specified area for 48 hours.
The case of Amelia Bish, 29, of Horse Hill Protest Camp, Hookwood, Surrey, charged with resisting/obstructing an enforcement officer, will be heard next year after she provided the court with a sick note.
The judge said of the activists as a whole: “This was basically from start to finish, clearly on any one’s account, a very peaceful and understated protest.”
Cllr Bryan said of the outcome: “I think it’s testament to the fact that we’re just people who care and the judge can recognise that. That’s all there is to it. We’re not yobs, we’re just people who give a monkey’s.”
Talking about the police’s conduct, he added: “They seemed hell bent on spending every last penny that they haven’t got on policing people who care about the community.”