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CPS drops case against eco-activists

CPS drops case against eco- activists who blockaded UKOG Horse Hill oil site

CPS drops case against eco-activists who blockaded UKOG Horse Hill oil site 

Public interest not served by prosecution, CPS rules 

It is not in the public interest to prosecute two Extinction Rebellion activists who locked themselves together to block the entrance of the Horse Hill oil site near Gatwick in December 2019, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has ruled.

The CPS decision to drop the case comes just days before the activists were due to appear in court this week (Thursday 14 January 2021).

Gillian Fletcher, 58, of Clifton Road, Wokingham and Steve Lowes (known as Woody), 49, of Goring Road, Staines-upon-Thames, were both charged with wilful obstruction of a highway after locking their arms together in a steel pipe and lying in front of the gates of the oil site for 8 hours on 10 December 2019. The site operator UKOG has planning permission to drill new wells there and produce oil for 20 years.

Gillian Fletcher, 58, of Clifton Road, Wokingham and Steve Lowes (known as Woody), 49, of Goring Road, Staines-upon-Thames

They were both due to appear at Staines Magistrates Court on Thursday this week. However on Friday last week the CPS informed both activists that the case had been dropped. 

The CPS stated: “The decision to discontinue these charges has been taken because a prosecution is not needed in the public interest.”

“We carried out this action over a year ago to bring attention to UKOG's unnecessary and destructive plans to extract oil and gas across the south east.

They intend to industrialise our precious countryside and ruin our environment in order to extract fossil fuels which we don't need and which will contribute to our own extermination. We and others will not stand by silent and allow them to do this.” 

Gillian Fletcher, Wokingham

The Government has been using the current health situation to subtly erode rights of protest in a way which will be difficult to reverse when the situation changes.
They have been insisting on prosecuting peaceful protestors, forcing them to travel against their own guidelines to reach courts for hearings.  “The dropping of our charges as 'not being needed in the public interest' is perhaps an indication not only that some prosecutors are aware of who the real criminals are in this scenario, but that they are starting to exert their independence from political interference." 

Steve Lowes of Staines-upon-Thames

Activists are hopeful that this latest decision by the CPS and its decision in November last year to drop charges against another two Extinction Rebellion campaigners, who locked themselves together outside the site and two who breached the site’s security to occupy the site, indicates an increasing reluctance to uphold prosecutions against peaceful protests highlighting the Climate Emergency.

Horse Hill oil well has been the focus of protests since the site was earmarked for oil exploration.  In the past year there have been a number of slow walks and in October two activists occupied the site’s drilling rig for twelve hours.

In 2018 UKOG was granted an interim injunction against protests at the site. The company is in the process of attempting to make the injunction permanent. 

A trial beginning early next year will decide whether the interim injunction should be made final. This will be the first of the injunctions against protests at UK onshore oil and gas sites to go to trial.

In a similar injunction granted to Ineos. the appeal court judges dismissed the section outlawing protests on the public highway, but UKOG has indicated that it wants to continue to outlaw protests on the highway. 

UKOG has said it will seek to include in the final injunction slow walking, standing in front of vehicles, climbing onto vehicles and actions that blocked the public highway. It also said it would seek to include trespass to land and obstructing the entrance to sites. In the meantime the interim injunction continues to be challenged in court by the Weald Action Group, the order comes before a High Court judge next month.

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