One of ten protesters cleared of obstructing a highway during an anti-fracking protest at Balcombe in July has spoken of his ‘relief’ at the court’s decision this week.
Paul Deacon, 50, told the County Times that while the entire process had been ‘wearing’, he felt the trial had vindicated their and others’ right to protest peacefully.
He and nine others were acquitted after a three-day trial at Brighton Magistrates’ Court.
The group were arrested on July 26 during a summer of protests outside Cuadrilla’s exploratory drilling site near Balcombe in Mid Sussex.
While the firm repeatedly claimed it had no plans for fracking in Balcombe, campaigners feared its activity on site constituted the first step towards the controversial process, which involves pumping water and chemicals at high pressure underground to split apart porous shale rock to release oil or gas.
On the district judge’s verdict Mr Deacon said: “It was a great sense of relief and vindication.
“I always thought the protests were worthwhile anyway, but it was especially gratifying that he [the judge] praised our conduct and I think he understood that we were acting out of a sense of moral duty and responsibility.”
He added: “I hope people realise from our case that it’s perfectly legal to protest, and protest in a defiant manner as we did, and people should not be frightened from expressing their opinion.
“It’s vital that people do express their opinion in public.”
Mr Deacon described the Balcombe site as a ‘peaceful carnival atmosphere’ and said he and others were merely sitting on a log at the roadside near the entrance to the drilling site when a large number of police arrived.
He continued: “Suddenly they started moving people, threatening them with arrest, and generally trying to break up the protests outside of the gates.
“We were quite shocked and were reluctant to leave because we felt we were not doing anything wrong which is actually what the court has now ruled.”
Another firm, Celtique Energie, has permission for an exploratory well south of Billingshurst to look for conventional deposits.
However, it is bidding for a second drilling site between Wisborough Green and Kirdford and has stated it will be looking for shale deposits.
Mr Deacon added: “It would have been pretty harsh to get a criminal record for sitting peacefully beside a road that was already closed.
“It’s a huge relief but unfortunately the threat of fracking has not gone away.”
He continued: “Fracking is a serious threat to Sussex and to England. It’s industrialisation of our countryside, there’s no doubt about that. There are so many levels on which it’s simply wrong.”