Campaigners who blockaded Cuadrilla’s PR company held for over 24 hours and hit with bizarre charges and bail conditions
Six women who blocked the doorway of the PR company Bell Pottinger as part of yesterday’s day of action against fracking were released from custody today. They had been held for over 24 hours because – in an extremely unusual move – the police decided not to release them on bail after interview but instead held them on remand so they could be delivered straight to a court hearing this morning.
At the court hearing, it was revealed that the protesters were being charged with an estimated £4 of criminal damage in addition to aggravated trespass, and that their bail conditions included a ban on “carrying adhesives”.
The activists – who travelled to Bell Pottinger’s London offices from the Reclaim the Power camp yesterday – had targeted the company as they are responsible for Cuadrilla’s misleading pro-fracking PR spin. The PR firm’s other clients include the family of Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad and the authoritarian governments of Belarus and Bahrain. The company also represented notorious polluter Trafigura after it caused multiple casualties by dumping toxic waste in the Ivory Coast.
Bell Pottinger has been retained by Cuadrilla to convince the public that fracking is safe and will bring down fuel bills. But in a secret recording made at a meeting in Balcombe, one of the company’s senior public relations officers admitted that the effect of the technology on bills will be ‘basically insignificant’, and that their pro-fracking PR offensive ‘sounds like utter fucking bullshit’ . The campaigners played this recording over a sound system during their protest yesterday, and used arm tubes and superglue to attach themselves to the company’s doors and prevent staff from entering for over five hours.
After their arrest, the six protesters were originally threatened with a long list of harsh bail conditions including complete non-association with each other, not to enter a large area of West Sussex surrounding Balcombe and not communicating directly or indirectly with Bell Pottinger, Cuadrilla, or “associated companies”. These highly restrictive conditions would have prevented them from writing anything publicly about a large number of companies, despite the fact that one of the defendants is a professional journalist.
At the court hearing, the protesters’ defence lawyer successfully argued for the above bail conditions to be dropped. The magistrates agreed that these conditions were disproportionate and a restriction of the women’s democratic rights to protest and free speech. However, the six campaigners are still forbidden from entering the City of London (except for work, transit, legal or medical reasons), entering any Bell Pottinger premises, or “carrying adhesives”. This final condition was not clearly defined in court and so could in theory include post-it notes, wallpaper paste or chewing gum.
All six pleaded not guilty to charges of Aggravated Trespass and Criminal Damage. When challenged on what this damage entailed, the prosecution admitted that the only damage was superglue left on a window, which had taken half an hour to remove. Assuming that the cleaner was paid the minimum wage, this would amount to around £4, or 67p per protester.
One of the six protesters, Eleanor Smith said: “It’s pretty extraordinary stuff. We were held for an excessive amount of time, forced through a stressful court process and hit with a mixture of harsh and ridiculous charges and bail conditions, for using non-violent direct action to challenge Bell Pottinger’s lies. Meanwhile, this unscrupulous company is once again free to promote the interests of dictators and polluters. Despite the police’s attempts to silence us, we won’t be deterred, and will continue to stand up against filthy fossil fuel companies like Cuadrilla and their devious spin doctors.”
 The recording can be heard at bit.ly/14Z380p