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Protecting protest - fracking campaigners challenge Ineos' "anti-democratic" tactics

As people around the country take to the streets against inaction over the climate emergency, campaigners are challenging corporate efforts to shut down front line protests.

Tamasin Cave
22 February 2019
corre.jpg

Image: Joe Corré and anti-fracking protestors, October 2018. Credit: David Mirzoeff/PA Images, all rights reserved.

“We’re in this kind of war against an industry that knows it's on its way out, but is clinging on as long as it can,” says Joe Corré of anti-fracking group, Talk Fracking.

In the next few weeks, Corré will find out whether his efforts to challenge a wide-ranging injunction brought by petrochemical giant, Ineos, against protestors have been successful. Ineos is one of the main companies pushing to frack in the UK.

“If we win, it will be another major blow to the fracking industry,” says Corré. “If we don’t, then it's going to be a really big thing for protest.”

What is at stake, and the reason why Corré decided to take the case to the Court of Appeal, is the nature of the injunction granted to Ineos, which has been described as “draconian” and “anti-democratic”.

Granted by a private court in 2017, it tells campaigners they will be in contempt of court if they cause any obstruction to the firm’s fracking operations and may be put in prison, fined or have their assets seized. It adds severe penalties to existing laws, such as trespass, and covers tactics such as “slow walking” in front of vehicles. What is unusual about this particular injunction, though, is that it is addressed to “persons unknown”, meaning that it covers anyone who engages in the injunction's “prohibited conduct”, whether they are aware of the injunction, or not.

“What it has done is put the frighteners on people,” says Corré of the injunction, which has now been in place for 18 months. “It has curbed their right to peacefully protest.” This is the basis of Corré’s appeal: that, by applying the injunction to everyone, it is incompatible with people's legal right to protest. Ineos disagrees and states that the injunction “does not prevent anyone effectively exercising their rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression”.  

What is clear is that the case represents an escalation on Ineos’s part to tackle what it describes as “mounting opposition, threats and unlawful conduct faced by shale gas operators.” It is right on at least one point: fracking is increasingly opposed by the public, despite the vast amounts the industry has spent on public relations to win over opinion.

Ineos’s wide-ranging injunction has also, inevitably been adopted by other fracking companies to shut down protest. “They’ve all copied the “persons unknown” thing,” says Corré, although he says that if campaigners win the appeal, they will be able to “take big chunks off” these other injunctions.

“I’m quite used to going to court these days,” he says, and is both proud to be challenging the injunction and ashamed that it takes someone with his personal wealth to do it. Corré is the founder of Agent Provocateur and son of Vivienne Westwood. In this context, though, he is David to Ineos’s Goliath. Its founder and chair, Jim Ratcliffe, is a billionaire and Britain’s richest man.

People who are now out protesting against the climate crisis should be clear, however, where the power lies in this battle. “These local communities affected by fracking,” says Corré, “have spent god knows how many weeks, months, years writing letters to their MPs, finding out information, talking to each other, fighting off all attempts by the fracking companies, at every opportunity.”
For years they have successfully held back fracking operations in this country and kept the gas in the ground. Corré’s case is trying to make sure that they – and all “persons unknown” protesting against fossil fuel companies – can continue doing it.

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