The five Weald Action Group campaigners who planned to continue their challenge to get a draconian injunction quashed in the High Court at a hearing starting next week are celebrating as the UK Oil and Gas (UKOG) group of companies concede that they have to radically scale back the Injunction and agree a much reduced draft Order which they have now made public.
The interim injunction obtained by UKOG has dragged on for over two years without a trial. It currently restricts protest at two sites: Horse Hill in Surrey and Broadford Bridge in West Sussex and sought to bring in its entire supply chain.
It originally aimed its ban at various forms of protest on the public highway including slow walking protests, by “persons unknown”, and had been trying to add over 100 individuals to the injunction. UKOG had failed to identify most of these campaigners properly and few if any had been involved in unlawful activities. The Weald Action Group had submitted pages of evidence to the Court in its long battle to stop this abuse of legal process and to secure protection for free speech and assembly for the many people affected by this injunction whose voices would not be heard by the Court, if UKOG had their way.
Lorraine Inglis, campaigner with the Weald Action Group, said: “This is a massive victory. We’ve been fighting for three years to cut down this draconian injunction – at every court hearing we’ve made progress. Now all that’s left is a set of narrow restrictions relating to trespass and access to Horse Hill in line with a standard injunction. It’s an excellent result. UKOG are trying to save face by pretending this has something to do with the COVID pandemic. It hasn’t – it’s all to do with their unacceptable injunction.”
Ann Stewart from Markwells Wood Watch in Sussex said: “The injunction started off covering four sites, including Markwells Wood which had no planning permission for oil drilling. And we’ve now managed to get rid of Broadford Bridge, where nothing is going on. This has been an abuse of the injunction process which should only be used to prevent real and immediate threats of unlawful action. UKOG have basically had an injunction over an empty field for two and a half years.”
Natasha Doane, from the Leith Hill campaign in Surrey said: “Wide reaching injunctions aimed at persons unknown have had their day. Companies cannot buy their way through the courts. The freedom to express your views is a right that shapes democracy and enables current pressing issues to be addressed. The implications of fossil fuel extraction are too severe to be silenced as we search for solutions to the climate crisis and mass extinctions.”
The case will carry on next week as the court still has to confirm the Order and there are now named potential defendants who may want to have their voices heard in court.
At a court hearing in April 2020 when the case was last heard, UKOG applied to have the five women removed from the case to stop them challenging them. The Judge did not agree and recognised the important role the women played in the proceedings as representatives of the many peaceful protestors and local campaigners opposed to UKOG’s damaging activities. That application caused a long delay but UKOG have finally recognised that the time is up for draconian injunctions. The group’s legal team will be writing to the Court about the indefinite nature of this “interim” injunction.
- The five defendants are Natasha Doane, Vicki Elcoate, Jacqui Hamlin, Sue Jameson, and Ann Stewart.
- The lawyers representing the five are Stephanie Harrison QC, Stephen Simblet QC and Michael Oswald of Bhatt Murphy solicitors.
- More information http://www.wealdactiongroup.org.uk/injunction/ and to donate towards legal costs http://www.wealdactiongroup.org.uk/donate/
- In 2018 UK Oil and Gas secured permission for another 20 years of oil drilling at the Horse Hill site, despite the Climate Emergency. It got an extension to its planning permission at Broadford Bridge in mid 2020, but there is no activity there.
- The Weald Action Group is an umbrella for local groups campaigning against the extraction of oil and gas in the South of England.