“The truth is like a lion. You don’t have to defend it. Let it loose. It will defend itself.”
So now the dust has settled a bit on Friday’s proceedings at Preston Courthouse in the matter of Cuadrilla V Tina Rothery, what do we know? Let me try to make some sort of sense of the week for you. It’s really been quite illuminating.
In the days leading up to the court hearing in Preston, a lot of noise came from both sides as the battle lines were drawn.
We had an open letter from a group of prominent people, which pleaded with Francis Egan, Chief Executive of Cuadrilla, to do the decent thing. It asked:
We are writing to urge you to end Cuadrilla’s legal action against Tina Rothery, a peaceful anti-fracking campaigner facing over £55,000 legal costs and a possible two-week jail sentence following the supposed eviction of campaigners on 27th August 2014 from a site you hope to frack.
That beacon of liberalism, The Guardian, decided – to its shame – not to publish this letter. I do hope that they will understand down there in Kings Place why so many of us will be ignoring their intrusive pop-up adverts on Guardian On-line pleading for cash from now on.
We also had some hysterical ranting from the anonymous internet trolls who support fracking – here is an example:
An Open Letter to Francis Egan,
On behalf of law-abiding citizens everywhere, we beseech you to continue in your pursuit of justice against Tina Rothery.
We want an example to be made of this woman, and those who support her, because this group of zealots seems to think that the law does not apply to them when they are acting to support their cause.
and from that same anonymous gentleman a little later:
Cuadrilla is well within its legal rights, and should absolutely pursue this case to its logical end, not doing so would be a breach of its duty to many of its stakeholders.
It seems that this point of view was shared by Cuadrilla as they showed every sign of wishing to push this matter to a conclusion that would serve as a warning to other protesters not to cross them without being very wary indeed.
Faced with public demands that they should stop harassing Tina Rothery, Cuadrilla resorted to claiming that the court hearing was really nothing to do with them, but was purely an administrative matter under the Civil Procedure Rules.
Cuadrilla’s lawyers, Eversheds, claimed that: “To comply with the Court’s order and purge her contempt, all she is required to do is answer the questionnaire”, which rather ignored the obvious point that if they stopped hounding her then the court would have no further interest in the case and would not have wasted its time any further.
Indeed, one of the responsibilities of the judiciary is to ensure the smooth and effective running of the system by ensuring that cases proceed as quickly and efficiently as possible. In this way the court system doesn’t get clogged up with vexatious and pointless litigation. Had Cuadrilla done what they ultimately did in good time and with good grace then a lot of time and effort could clearly have been saved on all sides.
So what happened on the day?
Well firstly, and strangely enough for a case that Cuadrilla were trying to claim had nothing to do with them, the hearing was listed as CUADRILLA V ROTHERY. Secondly, it seems that the District Judge had insisted that Cuadrilla’s barrister should attend the hearing. This begs an obvious question: why, if the hearing was nothing to do with Cuadrilla and was purely an administrative exercise under CPR 71, was the Judge insisting on the presence of their lawyer?
Cuadrilla’s version of events reads:
Having previously been found in contempt of Court, Ms Rothery has today attended Court and complied with the Court’s order to provide information as to her financial means, thus purging her contempt.
She could have easily avoided this situation and avoided yet again wasting court time and taxpayers money.
A barrister attended Court on behalf of the Judgment Creditors (Cuadrilla and the landowners) as the Court required him to do so.
The outstanding costs were awarded against Ms Rothery in October 2014 for wasting court time by failing to submit a defence after asking for a time extension in order to do so, the debt will remain unpaid and we will not pursue costs whilst she clearly has no assets to make any payment.
The position will be kept under review and revisited should Ms Rothery’s financial circumstances change.
Of course what they fail to mention is the sequence of events, and as is so often the case: the devil is in the detail.
The hearing was held in camera, but the first part of it appears to have resulted in several excursions from the courtroom for Cuadrilla’s barrister, with his mobile phone clamped to his ear. Now the only reasonable explanation for this is that their barrister was taking instructions from his client. Not once but repeatedly. After all, I think it is safe to assume he wasn’t leaving the hearing to order a series of takeaways from the Spice of Bengal next door.
So why, we wonder, would the Judge have pulled Cuadrilla’s barrister into what they are claiming was a purely administrative hearing, and why was there a requirement for this barrister to take urgent instructions from his client before the hearing could progress further?
Nobody who wasn’t in that room can know what passed between the District Judge and the barrister, but whatever the reason, the outcome was that Cuadrilla agreed, eventually and only after several excursions from their barrister (witnessed by the press outside the courtroom), to drop their persecution of Tina Rothery.
After, and only after, they had done this did Ms Rothery give the judge a verbal sworn assurance that what she had previously said was true, at which point he summarily dismissed the case. Had she not provided this assurance, she would, of course, have been accused of trying to deliberately martyr herself for the cause, as once Cuadrilla had backed off there was no reason for her to refuse.
We will of course never know for sure what happened behind closed doors, but it is interesting that the outline given by those present was confirmed by the reporting from the BBC’s Dave Guest who stated :
This clearly demonstrates that Cuadrilla did NOT drop the case simply because Tina Rothery purged her contempt and was deemed not worth pursuing. On the contrary, as can be seen from the vitriolic baying of Cuadrilla’s supporters and the company’s implacable pursuit of an impecunious protester, they had every intention of making an example of her right up until the moment that the hearing started. Even a plea for sanity from Lord Deben didn’t move them:
The fact that they backed down (apparently very unwillingly, judging from the reports of the repeated phone calls from their barrister) before Ms Rothery complied with the Judge’s request (which was by then a formality) shows that things really did not go their way that morning. Since the hearing, Cuadrilla and their supporters have done their best to put a positive spin on events, but, at best, all they have achieved is to coat this dog turd of a matter in glitter. It still stinks.
Cuadrilla finished the day with what remained of their reputation for sustaining community values in tatters. Far from striving “to be a good neighbour, recognising our responsibility to work in partnership with the communities in which we operate” as they claim in their 2015 accounts, they have clearly demonstrated that they are vindictive and vengeful to the point of obsession when crossed by members of that very same community. Their accounts for 2015 show that they spent $64,000 on charitable and community-related donations. That is less than they were chasing an impecunious grandmother from Blackpool to cough up in court costs. The imbalance is striking.
The people of Lancashire will not forget Friday 9th December and neither will we forgive Cuadrilla for what they tried to do to one of our own.
It doesn’t matter how many astroturf groups, task forces and front organisations they set up. It doesn’t matter how many PR companies they engage. It doesn’t matter how many lies they tell us.
Cuadrilla have clearly demonstrated that they do not have the interests of our community at heart. Indeed they have shown that they will hound members of that community through the judicial system whilst they are allowed to do so.
So we need to send them a clear message, and that message is that the gate is locked. Cuadrilla are not welcome in our community.
[Main feature image kind courtesy of photographer, Dawn Mander]