Court hears Caroline Lucas MP was exercising right to protest in Balcombe when arrested

Caroline Lucas MP at Balcombe anti-fracking protest summer 2013
Caroline Lucas MP at Balcombe anti-fracking protest summer 2013

Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion told a court today that she believes “people have a right to peaceful protest” as she gave evidence in a trial where she is charged with obstructing a public highway and breaching an order under Section 14 of the Public Order Act last August.

On Monday Ms Lucas pleaded not guilty as she appeared at Brighton Magistrates Court to answer charges from fracking demonstrations in Balcombe last summer.

She was charged with one count of breaching the Public Order Act and one count of obstruction of the highway outside the Cuadrilla exploratory drilling site in Balcombe, West Sussex, on 19 August 2013.

Ms Lucas was arrested after she refused warnings from police to move after being served with a Section 14 order by police.

Ms Lucas said governments are not doing enough to stop the use of fossil fuels.

She said: “I’m haunted by the idea that my children and my children’s children will turn round to me and say, ‘What did you do about this overwhelming threat?’

“And I want to do all I can do peacefully to address that before it’s too late.”

Ms Lucas said she “didn’t understand where we were supposed to be moved too”.

Pc Robert Staplehurst, of Sussex Police, approached Lucas, told her there was a Section 14 notice and asked whether there was anything he could say that would make her move.

Asked by Prosecutor Jonathan Edwards why she didn’t read the Section 14 notice at the time, Ms Lucas replied: “So many other things were going on at the time, I couldn’t make much sense of it at the time.

“I didn’t have concerns because I was exercising my peaceful right to protest in an area with no obstructions.”

Ms Lucas said the reason why the protestors sang “We shall not be moved” was not to defy the police but “was designed to show solidarity and support” to the group.

Lucas added: “If this protest hadn’t been effective it would have been made harder to persuade the Government to stop fracking and go down cleaner energy routes.”

The court heard that her son, who was sat next to her in the circle of protesters who had linked hands, was held by police.

“I was aware that the police tactics looked disproportionate.

“I was aware that my son was in pain and I was very upset about it.”

She went on: “If we had another 10 to 15 minutes we could have come to an agreement to end it and dispersed. We weren’t doing anything different than we were in the previous five hours.”

Ms Lucas is on trial with four other defendants Josef Dobraszczyk, 22, from Bristol; Ruth Jarman, 50, from Hook, Hampshire; Sheila Menon, 42, from north east London; and Ruth Potts, 39, from Totnes, Devon, who all deny wilful obstruction of the highway and breaching Section 14 of the Public Order Act.

Ms Lucas received a character reference from environmental campaigner and author Jonathan Porritt.

The trial was unlikely to finish today as three defendants are still to give evidence and only two are expected to complete by the end of the day.

Last month, Natalie Hynde, the daughter of rock stars Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders and Ray Davies of The Kinks was found guilty of ‘besetting’ the test drilling site and given a 12-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay costs of £400.

She had superglued herself to environmental activist Simon Medhurst who was also found guilty to create a “striking and symbolic” image.

Opponents of fracking, in which water and chemicals are pumped into the ground at high pressure to fracture shale rock and release gas, fear it could harm water resources and cause small earthquakes, and development of the sites will cause noise and traffic.

Sussex Police said the overall cost of the operation, in which 700 officers were used and 125 people were arrested in 65 days, is estimated to be £4m.