Anti-fracking campaigners win legal victory against energy giant Ineos over ‘draconian’ injunction

‘This is a humiliating defeat for Ineos and a victory for campaigners and human rights’

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Wednesday 03 April 2019 11:54 BST
Campaigners win legal victory against fracking firm Ineos

Campaigners have won a major legal victory against a “draconian” injunction granted to fracking firm Ineos.

The measures were taken out to prevent “persons unknown” from trespassing or causing disruption at the energy giant’s shale gas sites.

While the company has argued it only intended to prevent unlawful activities, critics say the measures have had “a very serious chilling effect on lawful and legitimate protest activities”.

The Court of Appeal ruled the injunction had been granted unlawfully by the High Court, and ordered changes to preserve civil liberties and free speech.

The appeal was initially brought by anti-fracking campaigners Joe Boyd and Joe Corre.

“This is a humiliating defeat for Ineos and a victory for campaigners and human rights,” said Dave Timms, head of political affairs at Friends of the Earth, which provided support for the case.

“The ruling today confirms our view that Ineos’s injunction was wrongly granted and unlawfully stifled protest.”

Mr Corre said: “This is a fantastic result and has restored my confidence in the British legal system.”

The court struck out sections from the injunction that apply to protests against the company’s supply chain, and those taking place on public highways, such as slow walking.

While the sections applying to trespassing at Ineos sites were maintained, the firm was ordered back to the High Court so they could be assessed against the Human Rights Act.

Ineos, founded by Sir Jim Ratcliffe, Britain’s richest man according to the latest Sunday Times Rich List, is licensed to frack a larger area of land than any other company in the country.

Since it took out its initial injunction, similar terms have been applied in cases involving other fossil fuel companies including Cuadrilla, UK Oil and Gas, Angus Energy and IGas.

Concerns have been raised about this trend, which has seen a total of 16 protest sites across the country targeted since the end of 2017.

Anyone caught breaching the injunctions faces fines, seizure of assets and even imprisonment.

However, lawyers described the injunctions as “vague, unclear and confusing”, and said protesters could easily end up breaking the rules without realising it.

Stephanie Harrison QC, who represented Mr Corre, had previously warned that if the Ineos injunction was upheld it was likely to be become the default position in protest cases.

Responding to the court’s decision, she said: “Today’s judgement recognises the serious chilling effect of the Ineos injunction on civil liberties, particularly the broad, sweeping terms of the injunction against wide categories of persons unknown.

Bird's eye view footage of Cuadrilla-run Preston New Road fracking site in Lancashire

“The outcome of this case serves to underline the importance of the Human Rights Act 1998 as a safeguard for fundamental freedoms like free speech and the right to protest. These rights are the lifeblood of our democracy.

“This judgement makes clear that the court will intervene to prevent powerful companies like Ineos using draconian injunctions to intimidate and deter people from participating in lawful protest against fracking, which is widely seen by campaigners and local people affected to be dangerous and damaging to the environment and their communities.”

The most recent government figures show 35 per cent of people in the UK oppose fracking, with many concerned about the earthquakes that have been linked to operations in Lancashire.

Protests at oil and gas sites across the county have garnered broad support, both from green activists worried about climate change and local residents concerned about their impact on the surrounding environment.

Legal action is currently underway against a number of similar injunctions taken out by fossil fuel companies, which may now be compromised by the Ineos decision.

Tom Pickering, Ineos shale chief operations officer, said he was pleased the Court of Appeal had upheld elements of the injunction “protecting people on and around our sites”.

“We respect peaceful protest but we must stand up to the militants who game the legal system with intimidation and mob rule. We stand for jobs and opportunity. They stand for anarchy in the UK,” he said.

“We are talking with our legal team about our next steps because we believe it is essential that the forces of law-and-order prevail.”

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