Green MP Caroline Lucas cleared over fracking protest

Ms Lucas was arrested outside Cuadrilla's exploratory oil drilling site

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Green MP Caroline Lucas and four co-defendants have been cleared of obstructing a public highway during an anti-fracking protest in Balcombe, West Sussex.

Brighton Pavilion MP Ms Lucas and her co-accused were also found not guilty at Brighton Magistrates' Court of a public order offence.

Ms Lucas was arrested outside energy company Cuadrilla's exploratory oil drilling site on 19 August last year.

The group had denied the charges.

The other protesters who were cleared were 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.

'Not a victory'

Giving a statement outside the court, Ms Lucas said: "We're very pleased that the court upheld our right to peacefully protest against fracking.

"Protest is the lifeblood of democracy.

"We are deeply concerned that the right to protest is being eroded and undermined, with legitimate protest criminalised by oppressive policing in an attempt to silence dissent.

"This judgement is right but this is not a victory or cause for celebration.

"We will continue to campaign to end fracking and only celebrate when our world is on the path to a clean energy future."

Caroline Lucas with supporters and co-defendants Ms Lucas said the judgment was not a victory or cause for celebration

A notice under Section 14 of the Public Order Act was imposed during the demonstration, requiring demonstrators to use a designated protest area away from Cuadrilla's entrance.

District judge Tim Pattinson said the prosecution had failed to satisfy him that Ms Lucas had "the requisite knowledge" about the Section 14 order being in place.

On the obstruction charge, he said he did not hear any evidence that any "actual obstruction" of a vehicle or person was caused by the protest.

"I have already ruled that issues of climate change are irrelevant to the decisions I have to make in this trial," he said.

Section 14 of the Public Order Act

If the senior police officer reasonably believes a public assembly:

(a) may result in serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community, or

(b) the purpose of the organisers is to intimidate others with a view to compelling them not to do an act they have a right to do, or to do an act they have a right not to do,

Then the officer can give directions imposing on the organisers or those taking part conditions regarding the place where the assembly may be (or continue to be) held, its maximum duration, or the maximum number of people who may constitute it, as appears necessary to prevent such disorder, damage, disruption or intimidation.

"Having said this, I am quite prepared to accept, having heard the evidence from all five defendants, that they are sincere and highly motivated in their commitment to the cause of reduction of carbon emissions."

Sussex Police said its priority had been the safety of the public, residents, protesters, Cuadrilla employees and its own officers.

Supt Lawrence Hobbs said: "We worked with all sides to enable them all to meet their peaceful and lawful objectives, whether they were day-to-day commercial activities or protest.

"The operation was a difficult balancing act throughout and we have been variously reported as 'caving in' to protesters and accused of 'overkill' in the number of officers deployed."

During the trial, Ms Lucas, the UK's only Green Party MP and its former leader, defended her decision to take part in the protest and told the court it was important and symbolic to be there.

She said: "I'm haunted by the idea that my children and my children's children will turn around 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."

She also said she felt the protest was a "legitimate and appropriate" way of sending a message to the government.

The CPS defended its decision to bring the prosecution.

A spokeswoman said: "We felt that there was sufficient evidence against Ms. Lucas, there was a realistic prospect of conviction and it was in the public interest to bring the case to court."

Cuadrilla declined to comment.

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