The Big Orange Bus Blockade

Last December I got a call from a friend. “Tom, we’ve got a problem. The rig is due at Barton Moss first thing Wednesday morning and we need to do something about it.”

The ‘rig’ is a drilling rig, used to drill for shale gas. If enough shale gas is found, a ‘fracking’ operation kicks off and we say bye bye to another piece of our green and pleasant land… not to mention the health of families and livestock in the area, the increased methane emissions (the most dangerous for global warming potential), the millions of gallons of water used in the process, the hundreds of lorries a day required to deliver it, and the damage caused to the local community and the environment in the process.

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As long as the rig stays out of the compound, there can be no fracking. While there is no fracking, life is better.

I had a long think. What could I do? What should I do? It was clear that we can’t just roll over and let it all happen. There was no time though – Wednesday was just a day or two away. It was clearly time to think the unthinkable.

So I hatched a plan. Late on Tuesday night I drove The Big Orange up from Brighton to Barton Moss, near Manchester. Waiting for me was a group of highly trained professionals ready to use the bus for a striking display of resistance. We met for a cup of tea, went through the plan, and got to work. A quick recce of the site entrance showed that the coast was clear, so in went the coach, and the brave souls who had chosen to attach themselves to it got in place.

Three people had attached themselves to various parts of the inside – front door, back door and steering wheel, in a way that meant the coach could not be entered, moved or driven. One person was attached by a D lock to the underside of the coach, and another was on the roof.

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For six hours the bus stayed in place at the front of the gate, stopping the rig from getting through, while security guards and Police tried to figure out what to do about it. Despite the chilly wintry morning, the atmosphere was full of warmth. People were teeming round the coach, offering blankets, hot soup and encouragement to those attached to the vehicle. Unfortunately I had to head back south as I was due in court in Hastings the next day, so I missed most of it.

Judging by the photos on the internet later, it seemed like the main method employed by the Police to deal with the situation was old fashioned brute force.

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After smashing a window, forcing entry, arresting those on the bus and towing it away, the Police then asked me to attend an interview at the local Police station to answer questions, amongst other things, as to why the bus was in such a poor condition.

I went back up to Manchester, answered their questions, and a couple of months later received a court summons to answer charges of “Obstruction of the Highway”, and “Driving a vehicle in a dangerous condition”

“What a cheek!” I thought. Not only do they damage the vehicle (the repair bill was over £3000 and needless to say they haven’t volunteered to contribute) they then pretend that much of the damage was already there. Things they quoted were the front door not working due to disconnected air pipes, a plastic seatbelt cover missing (seatbelt still working though), two seats dislodged and loose, and a luggage flap so damaged it would be, in the words of the Police officer I spoke to, “liable to fly open any minute”. Strange then that I’d spent six hours driving from Brighton to Manchester and it hadn’t done so.

The other charge, of obstruction of the highway, was just as ludicrous. Everyone knew it was not a ‘highway’ but actually designated as a public footpath. In fact a judge had ruled on the matter only two weeks earlier:

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Someone had even spotted the Police taking away the footpath sign in an attempt to hoodwink everyone:

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Now, nine months after the event, I’m standing outside Manchester City Magistrates Court about to go in. The Police didn’t fool the public, let’s hope they don’t fool the magistrate either.

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3 thoughts on “The Big Orange Bus Blockade

  1. So… Not even two hours in the courtroom and the case is thrown out.

    When I arrived in the courtroom the first thing I was told was that the Prosecution was going to apply to the District Judge to change the nature of the charge, from Section 42 (whatever that is) to Section 40A. It turns out that that was what my barrister was anticipating anyway, so we didn’t complain and let the change go ahead.

    We then heard how the charge of “Obstructing the Highway” had been dropped, at which the District Judge said he was “very relieved to hear it”.

    Then the Prosecution outlined the Crown’s case with respect to the condition of the vehicle.

    We heard how the charge related to “using, causing or permitting” a vehicle to be used in a manner which “involves a danger of injury to any other person”, and the Prosection called their witness, a DVSA vehicle inspector who had inspected the vehicle the following day (19 December). He gave evidence of various defects, but when asked if he’d been told it was involved in a demonstration, he said no. It turns out that the first he knew about any incident concerning the vehicle was this morning. He then admitted that “it was impossible to say how long the defects had been there”.

    When asked if the seatbelt could be used in its “defective” state, he said yes. When asked if the plastic cover was nearby, he said he had a brief look but there was hay on the seats and floor of the bus and it was difficult to see.

    When asked if the seats at the back of the coach could have been moved by someone locked to the back door he said yes. And when asked how the front door could have stopped working he said “someone had disabled the mechanism”. There was a guy locked to the door in a way that if it had been opened he might have broken his leg. If that were me I’d have probably disabled the door mechanism too.

    And in regard to the luggage lockers, the inspector said they were liable to open without warning as the vehicle was driven.

    Yes, quite possibly they were, on the 19th. But they weren’t on the way up to Manchester 36 hours before. If they had been, they would have.

    And that was it. The end of the Prosecution’s case. My barrister made a “half-time submission” (a submission after the Prosecution’s case, before the Defence gives their case) of “no case to answer” on the basis that the Prosection had failed to show that the defects were there while I was using the vehicle and also that the defects did not pose a danger of injury to anyone at the time.

    There was universal confusion over whether “use” meant driving or otherwise moving; or whether it could be said that I was using the vehicle while it was parked outside the fracking site. We adjourned for 15 minutes to try and find a definition, but couldn’t.

    When we resumed, however, the District Judge declared that “case law refers to ‘what it was doing at the time’, not what it ‘could’ be doing, or ‘might’ have been used for”. He then decided that I “may have been causing or permitting a the vehicle to be used”but I “probably wasn’t using it myself”. And finally he said, “I fail to see, indeed I cannot see, how the vehicle was posing a danger of injury to anybody at the time, and on that basis I accept the Defence’s submission that there is no case to answer.”

    And that was it.
    The end.

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