Environmental campaigners appear in London’s high court to oppose UK Oil and Gas’s attempt to ban protests at three UK sites
Six environmental campaigners have taken legal action to overturn a broad injunction which is being sought by an energy firm against protesters.
The group went to the high court in London on Monday to oppose the injunction which is being sought by UK Oil and Gas (UKOG).
They have accused UKOG of attempting to stifle protest in a “draconian and chillingly anti-democratic” fashion.
The injunction – addressed to “persons unknown” – would cover all campaigners who protest at three UKOG sites in southeast England. Anyone breaking the injunction could be jailed, fined or have their assets seized.
The legal move comes amid accusations that corporate firms are using injunctions to stymie protests against them. At least five firms have sought injunctions against environmental protesters.
A previous court case has heard that police officers who monitor protesters had advised energy companies to take out injunctions against campaigners.
UKOG, which wants to drill for oil in Sussex and Surrey, says it is seeking the injunction against unlawful actions such as trespass and obstruction of the highway, as well as techniques used by protesters such as walking slowly in front of contractors’ vehicles.
The firm says it does “not seek to silence lawful protest – it is solely unlawful activity that we are asking the court to give us protection from”.
It argues that it has been compelled to take “this serious legal action to protect itself, its supply chain and landlords from threats and unlawful conduct from activists who are intent on preventing us from going about our lawful business”. It says that it has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds in recent years to counter protesters.
The hearing, in front of the judge, Mr John Male, is expected to last three days.
Their QC, Stephanie Harrison, said: “The injunction is against persons unknown and has serious and draconian implications for the many individuals and groups who wish to continue to exercise their rights to free speech, assembly and association as part of long-standing locally based campaigns against the adverse impacts of oil and gas exploration for the environment, the climate and their local communities.”
One of the six, Natasha Doane, said: “I am concerned that the injunction, if granted, would be likely to have a serious deterrent effect on local people being able to continue campaigning in opposition to UKOG’s activities.”
“From reading the injunction, it is very difficult to understand what is covered by the description of ‘persons unknown’ and how previously legal acts could in the future by considered ‘illegal’ and in what conditions this would come into effect, and what the consequences would be.”
UKOG has claimed that there could be a large amount of oil at its Horse Hill site near Gatwick airport in Surrey, but there have been doubts over this assertion.