SOME 250 demonstrators – of all ages – gathered outside Civic Hall in Ellesmere Port today to hear local Labour Party MPs, including Weaver Vale MP Mike Amesbury, back the ongoing campaign for a Frack-Free Cheshire (see video of his speech here)
Among their number was Liverpool University student and national Frack-Free campaigner and activist Joe Boyd, who has successfully raised £13,892 of his £15,000 target – via crowdfunding website crowdjustice – to help challenge the legality of a series of High Court injunctions that effectively prohibit any form of direct action aimed at fracking giant INEOS’s facilities, staff and vehicles, and those of its suppliers.
Unusually, because the injunctions are aimed at “persons unknown” they effectively cover the entire population and effectively mean that all direct action-style protests that affect INEOS’s buildings, facilities, staff, vehicles, and those of everyone in their supply chain – even moderate forms – are punishable by a £5,000 fine and/or six months in prison.
Boyd, 44, is one a pair of anti-fracking campaigners who are placing themselves at personal financial risk – the other is Joe Corré, the son of fashion designer Vivienne Westwood – by challenging the landmark and broad-ranging July injunctions.
High Court Injunctions
The injunctions cover intimidating, threatening and unlawful behaviour, but also specifically forbid more “peaceful” direct action forms including “slow-walking” in front of trucks (to try and disrupt supply deliveries), and “lock-ons” to fences – an activity immortalised during the Greenham Common anti-nuclear protests of the 1980s.
Boyd told me: “This instrument covers everyone – you, me, everyone – but I am ready to challenge this unprecedented pre-emptive injunction granted to INEOS which is having the effect of stopping protests at its fracking sites, its suppliers’ sites, and more widely in relation to its business activities.” He added: “These injunctions are a threat to all forms of protest, everywhere.”
On his crowdfunding site Boyd says: “By putting myself forward as a named defendant in these proceedings, I want to ensure that we as local people, citizens and campaigners still have the right to hold peaceful protests against the fracking industry and those involved in it.”
Boyd is being represented by Heather Williams QC, co-author of the textbook Police Misconduct: Legal Remedies, who specialises in civil liberties and human rights cases, including civil actions. Her chambers, Doughty Street, describes Boyd as an “environmental campaigner” who is challenging “the unprecedentedly wide-sweeping injunctions granted at an earlier ‘without notice’ hearing to INEOS, the largest owner of shale gas licenses in the UK”.
After a number of injunctions were initially granted at the High Court in July, INEOS – which operates the drilling site in Ellesmere Port, and is likely to want to start exploratory drilling in its recently acquired PEDL 294 licence area that covers Frodsham and Helsby – announced: “Any obstruction of INEOS Shale’s business, people or suppliers is now a contempt of court – including slow walks and lock-ons”; but that “the injunctions do not interfere with the right to lawful, peaceful protest”.
Landmark judgement expected next week
At the initial behind-closed-doors hearing INEOS presented a body of evidence to the Court that “shale protestors [around the country, had been] involved in intimidation and dangerous direct action, putting themselves and others at risk”; but nobody was present in Court to put any kind of counter-argument or rebuttal.
It is likely that a final judgement on the challenge to the injunctions will be made in London next week – the outcome of which, if it goes in favour of INEOS, is likely – according to Boyd – to lead to more injunctions being sought by other fracking companies involved in drilling for shale gas.
Since his crowdfunding campaign started in July, 471 members of the public have donated between £10 and £200 each in support of Boyd’s cause. The student – who according to his Twitter feed holds a BA (Honours) in International Studies and is studying for an MSc in Public Health at Liverpool University – said: “The unprecedented pre-emptive injunction granted to Ineos … is having the effect of stopping protests at its fracking sites, its suppliers’ sites and more widely in relation to its business activities.”
• Anti-fracking campaigners now claim to have hit 1,500 signatures of protest against IGAS’s application to Cheshire West & Chester Council to allow it to test for shale gas at its Ellesmere Portside drill site (it currently only has permission to drill and test for coal bed methane gas). This is understood to be the largest volume of written protests that the council has ever received for a single application.
•If you want to donate, Joe Boyd’s crowdfunding page can be reached by clicking the link.