In a decision which will be greeted with dismay by the fracking industry, a District Judge has found ten Greenpeace volunteers ‘not guilty’ of Obstructing the Public Highway, despite them all admitting they were trying to block the entrance to the Cuadrilla Resources Preston New Road fracking operation, just outside Blackpool.
At the trial at Blackpool Magistrates Court the defendants were joined by supporters from across the Northwest, including Frack Free Greater Manchester’s Judy Paskell.
The lock-on took place on 3 May, as Cuadrilla Resources tried to bring in heavy equipment to build their giant Preston New Road site. Campaigners from across the country took part, including many from the Northwest: Helen Dryden from Wigan, Hamish Haynes from Stalybridge, Jeff Rice from Chesterfield, Liz Stanton from Preston and Gillian Wood from Blackpool. Supporting them on the day was Lori Liddle from Ashton-under-Lyne, and Martin Porter from Glossop.
Helen, who is training to be a yoga instructor, first heard about fracking by watching the ‘slow walks’ at Barton Moss on TV. When she found that her home town was at risk she helped to found Frack Free Wigan.
Helen said, on the eve of her trial, “The action I took at Preston New Road was one of last resort. I have family who live a few miles from the fracking site and I am deeply worried that their health and wellbeing is at risk from potential water contamination and increased air pollution. But this doesn’t just impact those in close proximity to the site.
“The oil and gas industry have known for decades that burning fossil fuels is a primary contributor to global warming – and yet they continue to explore for ever more extreme sources. I do not want to look back in 30 years’ time, at a world that is experiencing ever increasing climate change disasters, knowing I could have done something, but didn’t. To me that would be the true crime. Instead I chose to help protect this wonderful, diverse planet we all share.”
During the three-day trial, the defendants were able to raise a number of concerns about shale gas, and the government’s overturning of Lancashire county council’s decision to reject fracking at Preston New Road.
Acquitting all ten today, District Judge Jeff Brailsford said “These defendants hold genuine beliefs and are entitled to express those beliefs. They are, indeed, passionate in support of those beliefs. I am of the view that the defendants have, on the evidence I heard, sufficiently raised and established ‘lawful excuse’. The prosecution has not, shown to my satisfaction the defendants to have been overall unreasonable. Accordingly the charge is not made out, and I find the defendants not guilty.”
Speaking after the verdict Helen Dryden said “Today’s verdict is a fantastic outcome. I am delighted that the justice system has recognised our right to peacefully protest against an industry that has no social or moral license to operate.
“Fracking is not needed in this country, a fact that the Department of Energy recognised in its recent report on gas security. The fight to ban fracking in Lancashire, and across the UK will continue until the government starts to listen to its own advisers, and the local community who said no to fracking in Lancashire.”