M1 widening protest prosecution dismissed at Sheffield Crown Court
A prosecution for conspiracy to commit a public nuisance brought against seven protesters was dismissed at Sheffield Crown Court today. (R v White & Others, Sheffield Crown Court, 30th April 2008).
The defendants were stopped by police on a public highway near the site of road works being carried out to widen the M1 between junction 31 and 32 in South Yorkshire on 16th April last year. Following a search of their vehicle the police recovered three anti road-widening banners and three bicycle D locks. The prosecution case was that the defendants had agreed to suspend the banners from a motorway bridge and/or to lock themselves onto machinery, and that the effect of such a protest would have been to endanger the safety of road users or to necessitate closure of the M1. No such protest had in fact taken place.
Granting a defence application to dismiss the charge, HHJ Robinson found that in order to obtain a conviction the prosecution would have had to prove that the defendants had agreed to do something which would either endanger life or prevent the public from using the M1. He rejected the prosecution argument that the display of banners on a motorway bridge or persons locking themselves on to machinery could endanger life by distracting drivers, and noted that although there was evidence that the closure of the M1 might be considered by the police if a âlocking-onâ protest were to take place, this would be as a result of police intervention rather than a direct consequence of the âlock-onâ.
In any event, since the defendants were charged with conspiracy to commit a public nuisance, the prosecution had to prove that the defendants either intended or knew that either danger to life or the closure of the M1 would be the consequence of the action they agreed upon. The judge ruled that even if the prosecution could establish that there was an agreement for the defendants to display banners or lock themselves onto machinery, there was ânot a jot of evidenceâ to suggest that they intended or knew that their actions would cause either danger to life or the closure of the motorway. On the evidence âit would involve unacceptable speculationâ to conclude that the defendants intended anything other than âa peaceful protest at ground levelâ.
As a result of the ruling all the defendants were discharged.
The defendants Brereton, Clements and Minns were represented by Mark George , Andy Fitzpatrick and Kate Stone , instructed by Kieran Clarke solicitors, Chesterfield and the defendant Chiat was represented by Pete Weatherby instructed by Bindmans solicitors , London.
Commentary by Kate Stone