Local residents and campaign groups across the South East have written to the High Court in a bid to get a draconian injunction quashed.
The interim injunction by the UK Oil and Gas (UKOG) group of companies has dragged on for two years without a trial of the evidence. It bans protest at two of its sites: Horse Hill in Surrey and Broadford Bridge in West Sussex.
It originally aimed its ban on various forms of protest at “persons unknown” and now is attempting to add over 100 specific people to the injunction, even though it has failed to identify most of them properly, and failed to notify them except for short-lived messages sent to Facebook pages administered by campaign groups.
On Thursday, in a High Court hearing by Skype, lawyers for five women who volunteered to act as defendants to make sure the voice of “persons unknown” was heard, will argue that the injunction should be set aside. They will say that UKOG should start again using the correct legal processes, especially given judgements in other recent injunction cases which say that the approach UKOG has used is unlawful, unfair and breaches the rights to free speech and to protest about the effects on climate change and environmental damage of fossil fuel extraction.
Evidence to the court includes:
- An analysis of the 116 extra names shows the list includes duplicates, people wrongly identified, people who have taken part in peaceful protest that does not breach the injunction and pose no threat, people who have never been near UKOG’s sites in Surrey and Sussex and those who protested four or more years ago
- Numerous submissions from Facebook page administrators asking not to be targeted for the service of legal documents: “It can be very worrying to receive such a notice and the implication is that we take part in, and support, unlawful activities. This is not the case” (Ann Stewart and Emily Mott from Markwells Wood Watch in West Sussex).
- Local residents concerned about climate change who do not feel able to protest due to lack of clarity about what’s acceptable: “As a full time parent to two young children I simply cannot risk accidentally breaching the injunction when the penalties can include a custodial sentence, so I feel as if my right to peacefully protest has been taken away” (Lucy Barford from Dorking).
- Organisers of peaceful protest, like the monthly Faith at the Gate events at Horse Hill, who feel targeted: “I am shocked that peaceful events and organisations have had their data acquired from social media which is in itself a bullying tactic to frighten peaceful citizens from expressing their heartfelt moral opposition to the drilling at Horse Hill” (Rev Helen Burnett, Vicar of St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Chaldon, Surrey).
The application for the interim injunction to end will be heard by Chief Master Marsh on Thursday April 2nd at 1030.
The five defendants from Surrey and Sussex are part of the Weald Action Group, which is an umbrella for groups across the South East campaigning against the expansion of onshore oil and gas.
The women are represented by Bhatt Murphy Solicitors and Stephanie Harrison QC and Stephen Simblet QC of Garden Court Chambers.